Do you suffer from painful periods?
Do these pains handicap you every month and prevent you from performing your daily activities? Are you desperately wondering what can be done for this condition? This article shall help you not only find a solution for your menstrual cramps but shall also clear all your queries concerning this distressing condition.
Medical term for pain during periods/menstruation/menses is dysmenorrhoea.
Dysmenorrhoea is also known as menstrual cramps. Painful menses may occur immediately before or during the menstrual period. Generally, menstrual cramps start within a year of appearance of the first menstrual period (menarche).
In young females, dysmenorrhoea usually occurs without any underlying cause while, in older females, it is more often observed due to some underlying cause. When there is no obvious underlying cause for dysmenorrhoea, the pain improves with age or post bearing a child. This condition is more observed in females with irregular periods, heavy periods or whose first periods occurred before the age of twelve years.
There are two types of painful periods. They are – Primary dysmenorrhoea & Secondary dysmenorrhoea.
Primary dysmenorrhoea – Primary dysmenorrhoea is also known as common menstrual cramps. Some of the features of this type of dysmenorrhoea are as follows
- Cramping pain may commence within six months to a year from the beginning of menstruation (menarche).
- Dysmenorrhoea is recurrent and is not caused due to any other disease.
- Severity of the pain may range from mild to severe.
- Pain usually lasts for 12 to 72 hours.
- Pain generally starts shortly before or when the menstrual bleeding commences.
- Pain is felt in the lower abdomen, back or thighs.
- Pain may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhoea.
- Severity of pain reduces with age and may stop post bearing a child.
Secondary dysmenorrhoea – Features of secondary dysmenorrhoea are as follows
- Mostly likely to occur years after the onset of menstruation.
- Pain is due to some disorder in the female reproductive organs.
- Pain generally begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts longer as compared to the primary dysmenorrhoea. Pain may last throughout the menstrual period.
- Pain is not accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fatigue or diarrhoea.
- Pain may be associated with painful intercourse.
Uterine contractions are caused by a chemical called prostaglandin, which produce menstrual pains. Throughout the menstrual cycle the uterus contracts. Strong contractions of the uterus may lead to constriction of the adjacent blood vessels which obstructs the oxygen supply to the uterine muscle tissue. Pain is the resultant when part of the muscle loses its oxygen supply and dies. During this time, there is elevation of leukotrienes, a chemical which may be associated with the onset of menstrual cramps.
Intensity of painful cramps is linked to the prostaglandin levels in a female. Women with menstrual cramps have increased levels of prostaglandin as compared to women who do not have menstrual cramps.
Secondary dysmenorrhoea is associated with some underlying causes namely,
- Endometriosis (disorder in which endometrial tissue which normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus).
- Leiomyoma (non-cancerous growths of the uterus which generally appear during the childbearing years).
- Ovarian cysts (a solid or fluid-filled sac or pocket within or on the surface of an ovary).
- Adenomyosis (a condition in which the endometrium breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus).
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (bacterial infection which starts in the uterus and can spread to other reproductive organs).
- Cervical stenosis (narrowing of the opening to the uterus).
- Fibroids (growth on the inner wall of the uterus).
- Retroverted uterus (uterus tilts backward instead of forward).
Certain women who are more likely to suffer from primary dysmenorrhoea are:
- Females with irregular of longer duration of periods.
- Having early menarche (beginning of menstruation).
Symptoms of dysmenorrhoea are:
- Periodic or continual pain.
- Mild to severe aching pain in the lower abdomen & pelvis.
- Radiating pain to lower back, hips or inner thighs.
- Feeling of pressure in the abdomen.
Other symptoms occurring along with the menstrual cramps include
- Diarrhoea or constipation.
- Hypersensitivity to light, smell, sound and touch.
- Frequent urge to urinate.
Diagnosis of menstrual cramps is made simply on obtaining the medical history of menstrual pain & performing pelvic examination. In case of secondary dysmenorrhoea, certain diagnostic test including ultrasound or imaging studies may be advised.
To obtain relieve from menstrual cramps one should follow the below mentioned tips:
- Pain relievers & Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be prescribed in primary dysmenorrhoea.
- Heating pad or hot water bottle can be placed on lower back or abdomen.
- Gently massage the lower back and abdomen.
- Hormonal birth control pills can reduce the pain.
- Implantable contraception advised.
- Caffeine & salt should be avoided.
- Alcohol and smoking should be restricted.
- Take rest when needed.
- Take a warm bath.
- Avoid stressful situations as menstrual period approaches.
- Practice yoga and relaxation techniques.
- Administration of transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (stimulates the nerves in the pelvic area and blocks pain).
In cases of secondary dysmenorrhoea, treatment depends on the causative factor. Surgery may be required in few cases of secondary dysmenorrhoea. After the diagnosis of the condition, physician shall suggest the most favourable treatment.
Primary dysmenorrhoea can be prevented by:
- Regular exercises.
- Use of certain types of birth control pills.
- Lifestyle modifications.