The two types of period pain – which type do you get?

By Dr. Greta

Let’s talk about periods — again. I know you may feel like that’s all I go on about, but this time I want to talk to you about painful periods. Specifically, is it normal to have painful periods? In this post, I will be talking to you about the two types of period pain and together we can work out which type you get.

Is your period painful? I imagine you have experienced painful periods at some stage, or maybe you have them right now. Did you know that up to 95% of women will experience painful periods at some time in their life? That’s a WHOLE heap of women right?

So how do we know if your period pain is ‘normal’ or not? 

Before we get any further down the track, this blog post is dedicated to talking about period PAIN. We cover other period-related things in other posts, so head back to the blog to find these posts if you want to know more.

So if up to 95% of women have experienced painful periods at some time, then pain must be a normal part of our menstrual cycle, right? Well, it is… and it isn’t.

There are two types of period pain and the trick is to work out what type of period pain you get; whether what you experience is a normal part of your cycle, or whether there is something else driving your pain, such as conditions like endometriosis or infection.

There are TWO TYPES of period pain: 

PRIMARY period pain

  • A period that is painful but otherwise normal and in keeping with the usual experience of your period 


SECONDARY period pain

  • A period that is painful due to an underlying condition driving that pain

Either way, if your periods are painful and you are concerned, I ALWAYS encourage people to talk about this with their doctors. We are all different. You and your doctor know your situation best and they can help decide how to move forward based on things specific to YOU.

Primary period pain

So primary period pain has some characteristics that help us to work out if it is a normal part of your cycle. Here are some characteristics of painful periods, without an underlying cause: 

  • Primary period pain tends to last anywhere between 8 and 72 hours on average
  • The pain starts generally at the same time as your bleeding starts 
  • The pain is pretty much the same each time you get your period and hasn’t gotten any worse over time
  • The pain likely started around about 6-12 months after you started having regular periods
  • Pain may be felt in your lower tummy and sometimes in your thighs or back
  • The pain may also coincide with some mild hormonal symptoms such as tender breasts and headaches

If these characteristics fit with your situation, then your period pain could well be a ‘normal’ part of your cycle. If it has never bothered you, hasn’t changed and hasn’t impacted your life, then chances are you are experiencing what most women experience. HOWEVER, I want you to understand when things may NOT be normal so that you can seek help. 

Secondary period pain

Here are some characteristics of secondary period pain: where something else is driving the pain (such as an underlying condition like endometriosis): 

  • The pain is getting worse over time
  • You used to have pain-free periods or you used to not experience THIS much pain
  • The pain may have started as soon as you began having periods
  • You are also experiencing other symptoms such as 
    • Bleeding in the middle of your cycle
    • Pain with sex
    • Bleeding after sex
    • Bleeding that is heavier now than what you previously experienced
    • Pain when you pee or poo during your period
  • Your cycle is irregular and your period comes whenever it wants
  • You’ve tried simple pain relief options (e.g. Paracetamol and wheat packs) and they don’t help
  • Someone in your family has a condition that causes painful periods

If you think that actually you are ticking the boxes for some of the characteristics that indicate an underlying cause of your pain, then you may have secondary period pain and you should check in with your doctor to discuss how to investigate this further.

Causes of secondary period pain

So if you potentially have secondary period pain, caused by an underlying condition, then I guess you may want to know what those conditions could be? Here is a list of possible causes of secondary period pain:

  1. Endometriosis
  2. Adenomyosis
  3. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
  4. Sexually Transmitted Infection
  5. Fibroids
  6. Cervical stenosis
  7. Pelvic Congestion Syndrome

Over the coming weeks, I will go into more detail about each of these conditions so you can learn a little more about how they arise and what symptoms they cause. 

So back to that period pain. If it’s stopping you from enjoying life or is causing disruptions to your schedule, then don’t put up with it. Maybe you’re requiring lots of sick leave or you’re not being able to leave the house for days during your period — these are things to chat with your doctor about. 

So what’s the take-home message? Yes, your period pain could be normal BUT if your period pain is troubling you, I urge you to chat with your doctor about it. 

Written by Dr Greta.


Hi Charmaine - thank you for your message. I haven't got a full post on Fibroids yet but you can read all about Fibroids here - That will answer all your questions! Thanks, Greta

Hi Charmaine - thank you for your message. I haven't got a full post on Fibroids yet but you can read all about Fibroids here - That will answer all your questions! Thanks, Greta

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