Dysmenorrhea or commonly known as menstrual cramps is the pain in the lower abdomen, right before or during a woman’s menstruation.
If you are a woman, you probably undergo or have undergone menstrual pain monthly.
You must be aware of how painful they can get.
Painful periods occur as a result of uterine contractions which is medically termed dysmenorrhea.
This guide covers Dysmenorrhea aka menstrual cramps in detail.
You will learn about the home remedies that can help lower your pain at the time of the month.
There are two types, primary and secondary.
Primary Dysmenorrhea is pain that comes before and during a woman’s periods.
It is a throbbing and cramping pain.
This pain is caused by prostaglandins.
These are chemicals present in the lining of the uterus that causes a contraction in the muscles of the uterus and blood vessels.
Hence, resulting in pain.
The level of prostaglandins is highest on the first day of menstruation.
As the uterus lining sheds, the level of prostaglandins decreases, therefore, there is less pain in later days.
It is recurrent and does not happen because of any illness.
It continues to occur every month and pain occurs in the lower abdomen and back.
You may also get symptoms like nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
It can decrease with age and may stop after giving birth.
Secondary dysmenorrhea can be due to a reproductive system disease, disorder or infection..
The pain lasts longer than in primary one.
It can start earlier in your menstrual cycle and continue even after menstruation ends.
However, symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea do not accompany the painful menstrual cramps.
The main sign and symptom of menstrual cramps is pain in the lower abdomen, back, hips and sometimes in the thigh.
Menstrual cramps differ for every woman.
Some may have the cramping longer while for others it may last only a day.
Moreover, where the pain occurs is also different for every woman.
The intensity of the pain can also differ, this pain can range from being mild to severe.
This pain starts either 1 or 2 days before your periods.
For some women, it can start even before that and then it peaks when bleeding starts.
After the peak, it settles down in 48 to 72 hours.
This pain is usually continuous and is sometimes accompanied by nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headache and dizziness.
If you feel your symptoms have worsened, you should get checked by your doctor.
This may not be indicating primary but secondary dysmenorrhea for which you need to identify the underlying cause.
Menstruation involves the contraction of the uterus to expel the uterus lining.
Prostaglandins cause pain and inflammation and cause the uterus to contract.
If the uterus contract strongly, it can press some blood vessels that supply oxygen to muscle tissue.
When the supply of muscle tissue is blocked, you feel pain.
However, this is relevant for primary form and normal menstrual cramps.
Secondary dysmenorrhea usually results from a disorder.
Causes of Secondary Dysmenorrhea
Reproductive disorders that can cause it include:
The tissues lining the uterus called the endometrium form outside the uterus.
Either on the fallopian tubes, ovaries or on tissues lining the pelvis.
These tissues also break down and bleed during your periods therefore resulting in excessive pain and swelling.
Pelvic Inflammatory disease (PID):
PID is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria.
It will start in the uterus but then spreads to other reproductive organs and causes pain in the stomach.
Uterine fibroids form in the walls of the uterus.
They are noncancerous but cause menstrual cramps.
Adenomyosis is a condition where the uterus lining starts growing within the uterus muscle.
This causes the uterus to grow larger and result in abnormal amounts of bleeding and pain.
It is more common in women who have already given birth and are older.
Some women have a narrow cervical opening.
This hinders menstrual flow and results in an increase in the pressure inside the uterus causing pain.
Risks and Complications
You are at higher risk of dysmenorrhea if you are younger than 30.
Moreover, if you started menstruating before 11 years of age and have irregular periods, you are more prone to suffer from menstrual cramps.
You are more susceptible if you have a family history of menstrual cramps, get heavy periods and you smoke.
The condition itself does not pose any complications.
However, conditions causing menstrual cramps can get serious.
Furthermore, pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scarring in the fallopian tubes making you susceptible to ectopic pregnancy.
Take these risk factors into account for your menstrual periods and proceed with treatment.
Diagnosis and Test
If your condition continues for longer periods of time and is severe, you probably need to visit a doctor.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a pelvic exam.
They will insert a speculum in your vagina and observe your cervix, uterus and vagina.
They will look for any abnormalities or bumps.
However, if they suspect another disease, causing secondary dysmenorrhea, they will carry out further tests.
An ultrasound will observe your reproductive system to check for any abnormalities.
A CT and MRI may also be carried out if the doctor thinks that more tests are required to identify the diagnosis.
Laparoscopy can help identify diseases like endometriosis and the underlying causes of secondary type.
It can also detect fibroids, cysts and ectopic pregnancy.
Your doctor inserts a small camera tube in your abdomen by making an incision.
This lets the doctor view your reproductive organs and abdominal cavity.
It cannot be prevented or cured.
It is natural and primary type does occur every month to a menstruating woman.
However, you can ease and reduce your pain.
You can get over-the-counter medicines and pain relievers like ibuprofen a day before your periods start.
This can control your period cramps pain and you may get less pain than usual when bleeding starts.
Your doctor can also prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs nsaids that reduce prostaglandins which can ease your pain.
You can take these pain relievers for two to three days till your pain lessens and symptoms disappear.
You can use hormonal birth control methods that prevent ovulation.
Therefore the severity of the cramps decreases.
These hormonal birth control methods are in oral contraceptive pills, intrauterine device or injection.
They are also available as a skin patch, flexible ring placed inside the vagina and an implant.
Using these hormonal birth control methods you can control the menstrual pain.
You may also require surgery if all other methods fail.
That surgery will be to remove your uterus if you do not intend to have more children.
However, if your menstrual cramps are due to other disorders like endometriosis and fibroids, you will require surgery to remove them.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
You will want to incorporate lifestyle changes and use some home remedies to ease your condition.
One of them is including exercise in your routine.
Exercise not only helps to keep you active but it can also help you manage your pain and symptoms.
You may find breathing exercises and yoga helpful.
Moreover having regular physical activity does help a few women.
Try to use heat in the form of a hot water bath or use a heating pad to keep your abdomen warm.
Heat can ease your pain and provide temporary relief.
A hot water bottle, a heating patch or placing anything warm on your abdomen can be soothing.
Some studies suggest that taking dietary supplements containing vitamin B1 and B6, magnesium and omega 3 fatty acids can help relieve symptoms.
Moreover, try to avoid any form of stress.
Stress can delay your periods or they can come early but it can also elevate the severity of the condition.
While this should not be your first approach, some alternate treatments do help in relieving pain.
Acupuncture is the process of inserting thin needles at strategic points in your body.
Using acupuncture to relieve menstrual cramps can be effective.
Another similar method is acupressure.
Acupressure is also targeted towards specific points of the body, however, not with needles but with added pressure.
A Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device connects to your skin by adhesive patches.
These patches contain electrodes that stimulate nerves through current.
This in return releases endorphins which are the body’s natural pain killers.
Therefore a TENS device helps to increase your pain threshold and endorphin release helps to ease your cramps.
Herbal medicines are also used by some women to ease their pain.
These include fennel or pycnogenol or a combination of these and other herbal medicines to ease your cramp pain.
Moreover, you can try massaging and lie by bending your knees.
Furthermore, eat a light meal during your time of the month.
Add less salt in your meals, and do not drink coffee or alcohol and avoid smoking to prevent bloating and worsening the pain.
Every woman goes through menstrual cramps.
We are well aware of how that time of the month can be physically exhausting.
It is inevitable to have menstrual cramps hence all you can do is relieve your pain.
Therefore, try these home remedies, treatments and lifestyle changes to reduce your pain and cope with your symptoms better.
Take good rest when you are going through dysmenorrhea but do not cancel all your physical activity as it can help ease your pain.
If you have pain that lasts longer than 72 hours and is severe in nature then contact your doctor soon to identify and eliminate any underlying cause which can be serious.