PCOS period pain: causes, management and relief

If you are someone who gets periods then you may suffer from period pain, back aches and cramps. PCOS may impact period pain levels but we need more research to be done. In the meantime, this article outlines how to stop PCOS period pain.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, known as PCOS, affects 1 in 10 people with ovaries in the UK. Symptoms of PCOS include irregular or lack of periods, oily skin, acne, hirsutism and carbohydrate cravings.

What is period pain?

Dysmenorrhoea is the pain associated with menstruation. The majority of people who have periods have pain for at least 1 to 2 days per month.

There are two types of dysmenorrhoea: primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhoea is period pain which isn’t caused by a particular health condition whereas secondary period pain is caused by a health condition. Primary period pain is thought to be caused by an imbalance in prostaglandin levels. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances. They affect several functions in the body including inflammation, pain and uterine contractions.

As menstruation begins the uterus releases prostaglandins which stimulate the contraction of the muscular walls of the uterus. This is normal but, in people with dysmenorrhoea, there is an increased production and release of prostaglandins. These can lead to unusual uterine contractions, and therefore pain.

Secondary dysmenorrhoea may be caused by endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, adenomyosis or PCOS.

Common symptoms of pain during period

There are many symptoms of period pain that can occur before, after and during menstruation. Pain usually starts 1 – 3 days before a bleed, peaks 24 hours after the onset of a period and subsides in 2 – 3 days. Although, every person who menstruates is unique and may experience different symptoms. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Cramping in the lower abdomen
  • A dull, continuous ache
  • Pain that radiates to the lower back and thighs
  • Nausea
  • Loose stools
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Although period pain is common, if you are concerned about the level and/or intensity of your pain then speak to a healthcare professional.

Can PCOS cause painful periods?

You may be asking whether periods hurt more if you have PCOS, as it is a common hormone condition linked to reproductive health.

Some people with PCOS have no periods at all but others have menorrhagia, extremely heavy bleeding during menstruation linked to low levels of progesterone. The potential for heavier periods and enlarged ovaries with cysts that occur in some people with PCOS may be linked to dysmenorrhoea.

But, many doctors and organisations claim that PCOS does not cause pain and, if you are experiencing pain alongside a PCOS diagnosis, then something else is at play like endometriosis.

But if you are having painful periods then being told that you shouldn’t be in pain probably won’t help. Having painful periods isn’t a common symptom of PCOS but it doesn’t mean the two can’t occur at the same time.

PCOS period pain relief

Whether you have PCOS or not, tools to manage period pain are essential if you are experiencing pain like back pain or cramps. You deserve to feel heard and have your pain taken seriously. Whilst we wait for the world to catch up with PCOS research, here are some ways you can help period pain and cramps if you have PCOS.

Supplement with magnesium

Taking magnesium supplements daily can help with period pain. This is because magnesium relaxes the smooth muscle of the uterus and lowers the level of prostaglandins, a group of lipids associated with dealing with injury and illness.

Taking about 300 mg of magnesium has been seen in some studies to lower the incidence of period pain. Our favourite magnesium supplements include the Viridian High Potency Magnesium capsules.

Magnesium can also be found in many foods including dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes and tofu. Prioritise magnesium-rich foods before and during menstruation and supplement if necessary.

Apply heat

Using a hot water bottle or a heated blanket may help with period pains. The relaxing heat can provide some relief for people suffering from period pains. Heat relaxes the muscles contributing to cramping and can help relieve pain.

To allow you to keep living your life and working whilst you have cramps, try this Comfytemp Gel Pack.

Try a TENS machine

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation sounds scary but can be a great way to manage period pains. They work by relieving pain via mild electrical currents. You attach the TENS pads directly to your skin and feel a tingling sensation.

These electrical impulses can reduce the pain signals going to the brain and the spinal cord, giving relief from back and period pain. TENS machines aren’t a cure but instead may offer short-term relief from pain.

Our favourite is Beurer EM49 PainFree Digital TENS and EMS Machine which has over 12,0000 5* reviews.

Participate in gentle movement

If you feel up to it, moving gently by perhaps going for a walk or doing some yoga or stretching may help with period pain relief.

A study in 2019 analysed twelve trials and found that people with moderate-to-severe primary dysmenorrhoea (painful periods) who participated in exercise compared to no treatment, attention control, non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or the oral contraceptive pill had a clinically significant reduction in menstrual pain intensity.

But movement may make your period pain worse so figuring out what suits your body is key.

Consider birth control

Some types of birth control may help not only with period pain but also PCOS symptoms. Birth control devices like the ring or the patch, or birth control pills can help make periods lighter, less painful and more predictable. Some types of birth control stop periods altogether.

Speak to your doctor or healthcare professional if you are considering birth control and to determine the best solution for you.

Key takeaways: PCOS period pain

Although more research is required on PCOS and pain, if you suffer from period pain then that is very real and should be taken seriously by your doctor. There are some things you can do at home such as supplementing with magnesium, applying heat, using a TENS machine or engaging in gentle movement.

Alex Okell ANutr Founder and Editor

Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist


Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.

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