More than half of women workers have experienced period pain that has affected their ability to work, a survey has found.
A YouGov survey of 1,000 women carried out for BBC Radio 5 Live found 52% had found it difficult to work because of the pain, while almost a third had taken time off work. Despite this, only 27% of women had told their bosses period pain was responsible.
One doctor, consultant gynaecologist Dr Gedis Grudzinskas, has called for employers to introduce leave for women with severe period pain.
"I don't think women should be shy about it, and companies should be accommodating with leave for women who are struggling with painful periods," he said.
Earlier this year, a company brought the conversation of menstruation into the workplace by introducing a "period policy" to allow female staff to work flexibly around their menstrual cycles.
Menstrual leave is unfortunately still uncommon, however – so here are five ways to ease period pain if you can't get time off.
Take ibuprofen or aspirin to help ease the pain – as studies have shown paracetamol is less effective. The NHS advises to should avoid ibuprofen or aspirin if you have asthma, stomach, kidney or liver problems. If these don't work, you should visit your GP who may be able to prescribe a stronger painkiller.
Some studies have shown gentle exercise – such as walking – can help relieve period pain. Try a short walk during a lunch break. Relaxing activities, such a yoga or stretching class, can also help.
What causes period pain?
Pain occurs when the muscular wall of the womb contracts. During your period, the womb wall contracts more to encourage the womb to shed lining as part of a period.
The blood vessels lining the womb are compressed when the wall contracts – which temporarily cuts off the blood supply to the womb. This starvation of oxygen causes the tissues in your womb to release chemicals that trigger pain. It is also producing chemicals called prostaglandins, which encourage the womb muscles to contract more, increasing the pain.
Placing a hot water bottle – wrapped in a tea towel or in a cover – on the lower abdomen can help ease cramps. In 2006, a University College London professor found proof that a hot water bottle or heat pad can actually help stomach or period pain because it switched on heat receptors at the site of the pain. These receptors temporarily blocked chemical messengers that caused pain to be recognised by the brain.
Massaging painful areas, such as the lower abdomen or back, can help relieve pain. Women can get cramps in different parts of the body when on their period, including the back and legs. This is because of the release of a chemical called prostaglandins – which is a normal part of the menstrual cycle.
This is a longer-term solution - but stopping smoking may help relieve painful periods. A 2014 Australian study found women who smoke cigarettes may be at higher risk of menstrual pain compared to non-smokers. Researchers found a correlation between a worsening of pain and the number of cigarettes women smoked a day.
- The great religious taboo: Why are girls taught that periods are God's curse?
- Period policy: Why menstrual leave marks an 'enlightened era' of valuing women in the workplace
- Endometriosis is debilitating – extreme period pain means I miss out in life
- Not allowed menstrual leave? Here are five ways to relieve period pain