It is common to experience some form of discomfort in the run-up to your period (5–7 days beforehand). This is known as Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS, and is thought to be caused by changing hormone levels. There are many symptoms of PMS but the main ones are mood-swings, feeling bloated, tiredness, tender/sore breasts, feeling down, feeling more hungry and thirsty than usual and acne. If these symptoms go away when your period starts then you can be fairly sure they are down to PMS. It is important to look after yourself – eat well (avoid very salty and sugary foods, cut down on caffeine and eat plenty of wholegrains and foods containing calcium and iron), drink plenty of water, keep active (exercise helps) and make sure you have enough sleep.
You may experience a tightening and a dull ache across your lower abdomen and sometimes in your lower back and upper thighs during your period. This is quite normal and is caused by your uterus contracting to release the menstrual blood. You can take regular over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen (always follow the recommended dosage on the packet). As long as you do not have a medical condition that is made worse by taking ibuprofen (such as asthma), it is fine to take it regularly throughout the most painful days of your period but be careful not to exceed the recommended dose. If in doubt, see your GP.
If you find that ibuprofen helps and you are taking it regularly for a few days every month, your GP can give you a prescription which means you won’t have to pay for it. If you feel you need stronger pain relief, your GP may be able to prescribe a tablet that works in a similar way but is stronger.
You can also try holding a hot water bottle on your lower abdomen or take a warm bath to relax you and relieve the aches. Most girls find that exercise helps lessen period pains but if your pains are particularly severe, you may find it uncomfortable to do sport when you have your period. Talk to your PE teacher if this is the case and explain the situation.
If you have extremely severe period pains and other symptoms, such as nausea, headaches and diarrhoea, consult your GP.
Irregular or missed periods
It can take one to two years for your periods to settle down into a regular cycle but once they are in a cycle, if this becomes irregular or stops completely it could be a sign that all is not well. Periods can become irregular if you are exercising much more than usual, if you are not eating well and missing the right nutrients, if you are not eating enough and are underweight, if you are under a lot of stress, or it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. If your periods become irregular, make an appointment to see your GP. If your periods have stopped altogether and there is a chance you could be pregnant, see a health professional straight away.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
This is a rare but very dangerous infection that can occur in girls who wear tampons. The symptoms of TSS are similar to those of the flu. If they happen while you have your period and you are wearing a tampon, they may be a sign of TSS. If you have a fever, a rash, dizziness or vomiting while wearing a tampon, remove it immediately and contact your doctor straight away or go to your nearest A&E. Find out more about TSS here.