Period pain (dysmenorrhea) is a very common painful condition that affects more than 40 per cent of women on a regular basis. Symptoms can include pain, nausea, and cramping, and is reported as severe in up to 15 per cent of sufferers.
A new study, published in the journal ‘Pain’, looks at the effects of pain during the menstrual cycle on cognitive performance. Lead author, Dr Ed Keogh from the Department of Psychology, explained: “Pain is an extremely common experience and can have a disruptive effect on all our daily lives. Our research looked at how common everyday pain, experienced by many women each month, affects their ability to perform a range of complex tasks. This shows that the effects of pain go beyond the sensory experience, affecting what we think and feel.”
Researchers asked 52 adult participants to complete computer-based tasks that examined different aspects of attention, while they were experiencing period pain. The tasks measured selective attention (being able to choose between competing targets), attention span (monitoring and updating information), and dividing and switching attention between two tasks. The findings showed that period pain has a negative effect on overall performance.
The research highlights the need to develop better ways of measuring the effects of pain on everyday lives. This research suggests we should focus on developing strategies to help people remove barriers to performance, and even consider ways of repairing attention when exposed to frequent pain.