What is Dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is the term used to refer to painful menstrual periods. It is one of the most common complaints around menstruation, affecting 80-90% of female teenagers. More than often, it has a significant impact on people’s ability to live out their usual day-to-day lives. As a common cause for absences, it is important not to underestimate the impact that this has on young women.


The main symptom associated with dysmenorrhea is cramping and/or pain in the lower abdomen. It is also associated with lower back pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, headaches and fainting.

Types of Dysmenorrhea

  • Primary dysmenorrhoea typically presents that lower abdominal cramping pain which starts the day before menstruation. Pain eases after bleeding starts and may be gone after the first day of bleeding. It may last longer but is usually gone after the first 48-72 hours.
  • Secondary dysmenorrhoea is a little bit different as the pain may occur during other parts of the menstrual cycle. The start of bleeding may relieve or worsen the pain experienced, depending on the underlying cause. The type of pain is also slightly different, typically being described as dull or aching rather than cramp-like.

Naturopathic Approach

With dysmenorrhea, it is important to determine first which type you have as this influences the direction needed to best help you. While symptom management always provides some relief, it doesn’t address the underlying problem. By determining which type of dysmenorrhea you have, we can then move forward with a path that is best suited for you. Secondary dysmenorrhea typically has a more complex approach as if there’s often another underlying condition that also needs to be addressed.

Herbs for Treating Dysmenorrhea

  • Turmeric reduces inflammation by reducing levels of prostaglandins.
  • Cramp bark helps to relieve spasms and thus reduce the pain from cramps.
  • Ginger helps to improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, reduce nausea and relieve pain.


  • Fish oil helps in reducing inflammation.
  • Magnesium aids in muscle relaxation and reduces pain by reducing cramping.
  • Zinc inhibits prostaglandins and inflammation.
  • Try removing cow (goat or sheep are fine) dairy products from your diet to reduce inflammation and therefore pain.

Period pain is common but it doesn’t mean that it’s normal. It’s so important to work out what the underlying cause of your period pain is so that the cause can be treated, allowing the body to come back into balance and symptoms to resolve by themselves.

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Katherine is a certified naturopath and the founding director of Acorn and Oak.   She began studying Naturopathy when she was 18 years old and has practiced in both Melbourne and rural Victoria.  She has also studied 2 1/2 years of nursing and midwifery, but decided that she was happier to work with women as […]

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