When you think of
pain during your period, you might think about cramps, which typically occur in the lower abdomen. But sometimes, pain felt around your period is centered in the vagina or vulva. This can be a side effect of the typical processes associated with menstruation, or it could point toward an underlying problem.
"If you feel like you have to hold your vagina and take a moment to breathe in and out when you're on your period, realize that you're not alone,"
reproductive endocrinologist and OB/GYN Aimee Eyvazzadeh, MD, tells Bustle. "This is a shared experience during menstruation by women everywhere."
the pain is significant, interferes with your life, or occurs outside your period, you should look into medical conditions potentially causing it. A good rule of thumb is that if NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen aren't enough to relieve the pain, you should get evaluated by a doctor to see if there's a medical condition behind it, Dr. Eyvazzadeh says. Whatever's causing it, you don't have to spend a quarter of your life in discomfort. There are many different ways to prevent or reduce period pain.
Here are some reasons you might experience pain in your vagina during your period, according to experts.
It's not uncommon for your whole pelvic area to swell up during your period,
Astroglide's resident OB/GYN Dr. Angela Jones, tells Bustle. "Your body retains more fluid from the hormones associated with your period," she explains.
When your vaginal and vulvar tissue becomes engorged, that could lead to pain. This is especially common among those with a history of varicose veins in the vulva or vagina, Dr. Jones says.
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The hormones responsible for period pain are known as prostaglandins. These are typically the source of
period cramps, but the pelvic nerves can also transfer the pain to the vagina, thighs, or butt, aesthetic gynecologist Moushumi Shoma Datta, MD, tells Bustle.
Fluctuations of hormones like estrogen and progesterone can also cause vaginal pain by creating changes in vaginal pH that make it more sensitive, Dr. Jones says.
Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock Period pain can point toward a number of medical conditions. If the pain is centered in the vagina, that condition could be a vaginal septum — a barrier inside the vagina, Dr. Eyvazzadeh says.
Since the barrier is internal, you won't be able to see it, but it can cause painful periods and/or painful sex. It doesn't always lead to symptoms, but if it does, it can be surgically removed.
Another potential cause of menstrual pain in the vagina is
hematocolpos — when blood gets stuck in the vagina, usually due to an imperforate (or blocked off) hymen, Dr. Eyvazzadeh says.
Hematocolpos may also cause missing periods or abdominal pain. It can be treated by
treating the imperforate hymen, usually through a minor surgical procedure. Photographee.eu/Shutterstock Vaginitis is vaginal inflammation potentially caused by bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. While you might have symptoms of vaginitis month-round, changes in vaginal pH during menstruation can make them flare up, Dr. Datta says.
If you notice itching or an unusual smell along with the pain, go to the doctor to get evaluated for conditions causing vaginitis.
people with endometriosis, tissue similar to the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, which can cause severe period pain. "If there is an implant of these abnormal cells at the vagina, they are stimulated by the hormone changes during the period and may cause a pain exacerbation," Dr. Datta says.
signs of endometriosis include painful sex and painful urination or bowel movements. It's typically diagnosed and treated via a procedure called a laparoscopy, and it's important to talk to your doctor if you think this may be the issue.
These uterine tumors are benign, but in some cases, they can place pressure on the vagina. "Fibroids may become especially engorged due to menstrual hormone changes and cause increased discomfort at that time," Dr. Datta says.
A few other
signs of fibroids are heavy periods and frequent urination. Fibroids can be diagnosed via a pelvic exam and/or imaging tests and treated with medications or surgery, depending on the severity. Pelvic floor spasm occurs when your vaginal muscles get into a chronic state of contraction. "While this pain is not always specific to periods, some women report it more at this time especially on attempting tampon insertion," Dr. Datta says.
Pelvic floor spasm can be diagnosed and treated via pelvic floor physical therapy.
If vaginal pain (or any kind of period pain) is bothering you, the first step is to talk to your doctor about what might be causing it and how to treat it. Even if it's not caused by a medical condition,
period pain can often be reduced by dietary improvements, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. You don't have to live with it.