London - Period pain doesn’t only make women feel miserable. It also affects their brain power.
A study found that women did worse on tests of attention when in the grip of cramps, backache and headache than at other times of the month.
The reason isn’t clear but it could be as simple as lack of sleep affecting performance.
The University of Bath researchers said that while chronic pain was well studied, it is important that we learn more about the impact of everyday pain.
Period pain, or dysmenorrhea, blights the life of more than half of women of child-bearing age and is caused by temporary breaks in the oxygen supply to the womb.
To learn more about its toll, the researchers put 52 women who have painful periods through a battery of tests of attention. In one test, letters flashed up on the screen and the women had to say if the third letter was the same as the first.
In another, women had to rapidly switch between two different tasks.
The women did the tests twice – and were slower and less accurate overall when suffering from period pain. Possible reasons include the women being distracted by the pain and their sleep being disturbed.
Researcher Ed Keogh described the effect as a subtle, general dampening down – and said it may also affect performance in real life.
Writing in the journal Pain, he said: “The tasks used here are thought to reflect core processes which are often used in combination in many real-world activities. For instance, we often find ourselves multi-tasking, switching between tasks, during a range of real-world activities, such as when driving or shopping.”
Dr Keogh said that learning more about the effect of everyday pain was essential if we are to come up with ways of helping sufferers cope with it.
One option might be teaching women psychological techniques to make period pain less distracting. He said: “We know that the impact of pain can be widespread. The more we understand about how people experience pain, the better mechanisms we can put in place to cope.”
However, it is not just period pain that dulls the brain.
Dr Keogh has previously shown that headaches have a similar effect on attention – and both sexes are equally affected.
Period pain, which can be accompanied by back ache, nausea, vomiting, hot flushes and dizziness, is caused by strong contractions of the womb during menstruation. Each one temporarily stops the blood flow, starving the womb of oxygen and triggering the production of pain chemicals.
Chemicals called prostaglandins are also released, exacerbating the contractions and causing even more pain.
Dysmenorrhea can be caused by underlying gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, but often there is no obvious trigger. Symptoms often ease with age and many women notice an improvement after they have children.
The study – the first of its kind – involved women aged between 18 and 46 who regularly experienced period pain. Interestingly, those in severe pain did no worse in the tests than those who were in less discomfort. - Daily Mail