• IUDs are a long term form of contraception often used to treat heavy period pain in women. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Scientists are one step closer to figuring out what causes many women to suffer painful PMS every month.
Alyssa Braithwaite

22 Jun 2016 - 9:38 PM  UPDATED 22 Jun 2016 - 9:38 PM

There's new light shed on the horrible pain some women have to suffer every month. A new study into menstrual pain has found a link between premenstrual symptoms (PMS) and accute inflamation triggered by a biomarker called C-reactive protein (CRP).

About 80 per cent of women experience PMS and about 50 per cent of women seek medical care for those symptoms, which include abdominal cramps and back pain, irritability, depression, fatigue, water retention, weight gain/bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and mood swings.

Researchers from the University of California Davis surveyed 3,302 midlife women from five racial and ethnic groups and found the presence of CRP appears to be linked to PMS symptoms.

According to the study, published recently in the Journal of Women's Health, women who reported painful periods showed elevated levels of CRP. 

Previous research on CRP in relation to heart attacks has found CRP presence is linked to inflammation. As inflammation increases in the body, so does CRP in the bloodstream.

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“Premenstrual mood symptoms, abdominal cramps/back pain, appetite cravings/weight gain/bloating, and breast pain, but not headache, appear to be significantly and positively related to elevated hs-CRP levels, a biomarker of inflammation, although with modestly strong associations, even after adjustment for multiple confounding variables,” the researchers write.

"These results suggest that inflammation may play a mechanistic role in most PMS, although further longitudinal study of these relationships is needed."

The authors of the study also suggest women who experience period pain would likely benefit from taking anti-inflammatory medications, and that "avoiding behaviours that are associated with inflammation" - such as smoking or being overweight - may be helpful for prevention.

"The majority of women experience at least some premenstrual symptoms," says Susan G. Kornstein, editor-in-chief of Journal of Women's Health.

"Recognising an underlying inflammatory basis for PMS would open the door to additional treatment and prevention options and create a new opportunity for long-term risk intervention." 

The developing world's problem with periods
Menstrual Hygiene Day, on May 28, highlights issues in developing countries, where lack of access to sanitary supplies is causing many girls to skip school rather than risk a stain on their dress.