Menstrual Cramps – How Can Women Beat Dysmenorrhea?

Menstrual Cramps – How Can Women Beat Dysmenorrhea?

If you are a woman of reproductive age, you must have experienced painful periods. Menstrual cramps are one of the most common gynecological problems or say annoying aspect reported by menstruating women. For some women, it comes in mild form, while for some others; it could be unbearable like throbbing and painful sensation in the lower abdomen.

What are Menstrual Cramps?

A woman’s uterus or womb is buildup of two primary muscular layers; inner and outer. The inner layer also known as endometrium reacts to hormonal changes during periods while the outer layer known as myometrium is made up of smooth muscle cells.

When you are not getting pregnant or when pregnancy does not occur, hormone-like substances such as prostaglandins are released. This causes contraction in the uterine muscles (myometrium) and result in shedding of the uterine lining that releases menstrual blood.

It’s common to feel little contraction and discomfort during menstrual phase, but severe contractions may affect the blood vessels connecting the uterus. This temporarily cuts off oxygen supply to the uterus and hence, results in cramps. Painful periods are also medically known as dysmenorrhea.

Menstrual cramps may also occur due to some other underlying conditions such as:

Are menstrual cramps same for all?

Menstrual cramps typically ranges from mild to severe. A girl usually experience cramps for the first time a year or two after her first period. Gradually, with the age, cramps get subdued or may entirely stop after a woman gives birth to her first baby.

Doctors categorize menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea in two types:

  1. Primary dysmenorrhea – This type of menstrual cramps is related to woman’s menstrual cycle and is likely to be caused by increased level of prostaglandins. In primary dysmenorrhea, a woman may experience pain before and after menstruation and always had painful periods.
  2. Secondary dysmenorrhea – This means you have developed some underlying conditions (mentioned above) that are affecting your reproductive organs. Woman with secondary dysmenorrhea have had normal periods earlier but later become painful.

Symptoms other than menstrual cramps

Painful menstruation besides causing constant aching in the belly, also puts pressure on the stomach as well as pain in the lower back, hips and inner thighs. Women with severe menstrual cramps might also feel nausea, headache and loose stools.

Risk factors - Who gets menstrual cramps?

While the identifiable cause is still not known, there are certain risk factors that can increase the odds of getting menstrual cramps. These are:

  • Being younger than 30
  • Early puberty at the age of 11 or less
  • Family history of menstrual cramps
  • Heavy bleeding during periods
  • Never gave birth to a child
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding

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Diagnosis of menstrual cramps

Though menstrual cramps are normal but that does not mean it’s something you have to live with. You must talk to your doctor and discuss with him about your condition. Your doctor after reviewing your medical history will perform a physical examination of your pelvis. You might not need any further testing.

However, if the doctor suspects of any underlying conditions such as fibroids and endometriosis, he would likely to conduct:

  • Ultrasound that uses high frequency ultrasound waves to create pictures of the uterus.
  • Imaging tests such as CT scan or MRI to dig deep into your condition and extract details. Where CT scan produces comprehensive images of internal organs, bones and tissues, MRI test does the same by using powerful radio waves.
  • Laparoscopy is another option though it’s not always necessary until the doctor suspects of some other underlying condition. During this procedure, a tiny cut is to make way for a scope or camera that checks the abdomen cavity.

What can I tell the doctor about menstrual pain?

The doctor will be asking you a lot of questions. May be answering these questions are enough for the doctor to diagnose your condition and treat you better. You can prepare the answers for below questions right before you visit your gynecologist:

  • When did you have your first period?
  • Are you still sexually active?
  • Does your sister or mother have had menstrual cramps?
  • Does the menstrual cramp hinder your school or workplace activities?
  • Do you have regular menstrual cycles?
  • Do you use birth control pills?
  • What medication you use for pain relief?

How to treat menstrual cramp?

Painful periods can be treated through various ways. As the pain ranges from mild to severe, so are the treatments. Basically, home treatments are recommended, but there are medications and even surgical treatment if the condition does not improve.

Home treatment

These methods are successful in treating menstrual cramps right to some extent. Home treatment includes:

  • Abdomen massaging
  • Doing regular exercise
  • Taking warm bath
  • Applying heat using heating pad on the lower abdomen
  • Eating healthy well balanced diet
  • Reducing sodium intake
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Taking supplements containing vitamin B-1, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Reducing stress

Medication

  • Pain relievers such as naproxen sodium ibuprofen
  • Over the counter anti-inflammatory medicines such as acetaminophen
  • Hormonal birth control pills that lower the intensity of cramps

Surgery

In case where the underlying condition is causing menstrual cramps, the doctor may suggest surgery.

Menstrual cramps in majority of the cases are normal, but if they are persistent and disrupting your daily life, you must seek treatment. This would also help identify and eradicate any serious underlying condition which might render severe complications if not treated on time.