By Kym Campbell, BSc. | Updated April 27th, 2023
Ironically, women with PCOS suffer from painful periods even if they don’t get a period.
Fortunately, there are many effective ways to prevent and treat PCOS period pain. A PCOS diet like the one used in my free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge is at the top of the list.
Causes of Painful Periods
Period pain is usually a result of hormone-like compounds causing the muscles and blood vessels of the uterus to contract. These hormone levels are highest on the first day of your period and go down as your uterus sheds its lining. This type of period pain is known as Primary dysmenorrhea and is at its worst before, or during, a heavy bleed. It’s also more likely if you have polycystic ovaries .
Secondary dysmenorrhea is the name for period pain caused by reproductive organ disorders. This includes things like pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, and endometriosis. Endometriosis is a common co-morbidity of PCOS [2-4].
Symptoms of PCOS Period Pain
Abdominal cramps and pelvic pain aren’t the only symptoms of a painful period. Back pain, breast tenderness, headaches, muscle pain, and bloating are also very common.
It’s important to keep in mind that you can still suffer these symptoms even if you don’t get your period. This is because women with PCOS will often have anovulatory cycles.
Hormonal birth control is the most prescribed treatment for PCOS. It’s also often prescribed for women suffering from period pain. Birth control can prevent period pain by fixing the hormone imbalances inherent in PCOS. But the side effects can be significant. As explained in my PCOS birth control article, hormonal birth control depletes nutrients. It can also make PCOS worse while masking its symptoms.
Over-the-counter pain relief is the most common treatment for PCOS period pain. These typically fall into two categories of medicine. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like Advil (Neurofen), and acetaminophen products like Tylenol (Panadol). But many people don’t like taking these drugs due to legitimate safety concerns [5, 6].
Some people find that heat packs, TENS, or acupuncture are enough to manage period pain. Relaxation, meditation, and gentle exercise can also help with pain relief.
Supplements for Pain Relief
For women concerned about OTC pain relief medication, there are many good alternatives.
As explained in my article on PCOS pain, several herbal medicines have potent effects. For example, a pilot study looked at the curcumin product, Meriva, in patients with a range of chronic pain disorders. They found that a 2-gram dose of Meriva gave comparable pain relief to two Tylenol extra-strength tablets .
Other studies have specifically looked at period pain prevention. In one study, 1,000 mg/day of fish oil was better than Advil (Neurofen) for severe period pain . Other trials have supported this finding . Another study found that 25 drops a day of 2% thymus vulgaris essential oil was as effective as an Advil caplet for period pain relief .
Among herbal treatment options, fennel appears to be one of the most effective. Many studies have found fennel to be as effective as conventional drug therapies for relieving menstrual pain [11, 12]. Others have shown that cinnamon and ginger are also effective treatments .
How To Prevent PCOS Period Pain
The best approach to managing PCOS period pain is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This can be achieved by using nutritional solutions to address the underlying causes of PCOS.
A PCOS diet is foundational to good health for anyone with PCOS. This is especially true for women dealing with menstrual pain. Many past participants from my free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge find that diet and exercise alone are enough to overcome a range of health issues.
Nutritional supplements have also proven useful. Vitamins K, D, B1, and E and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and zinc show the most promise for period pain . For the most part, these supplements are affordable additions to a PCOS-friendly diet and lifestyle.
The advice of a naturopathic doctor or functional medicine practitioner is the best way to optimize nutrient status. But for women that want to experiment on their own, vitamin D may be the best place to start. High-dose vitamin D supplementation can reduce the prevalence of both PMS and period pain . And as explained in my article on vitamin D for PCOS, supplementation treats the underlying mechanisms of PCOS.
The Bottom Line
PCOS period pain is a common problem. But it need not be. A PCOS diet and other nutrition-based treatments can prevent painful periods. Nutrients and herbs can also provide alternative pain relief that’s as good as common OTC drugs.
Don’t put up with PCOS period pain any longer. Join my next free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge here, or download my free 3-Day PCOS meal plan to get started today.
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Combining rigorous science and clinical advice with a pragmatic approach to habit change, Kym is on a mission to show other women how to take back control of their health and fertility. Read more about Kym and her team here.
Quick Disclosure: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links. This means that when you use them to purchase something, it won't cost you more but I may get paid a commission for referring you. In order to avoid any prejudice, I only recommend products that I personally use or would have recommended anyways.
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