Period Cramps- Relief, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
Many women get to experience period cramps. These cramps can go from mild to extremely painful which may last for at least a few days. Women prone to period cramps are usually those who got their first period at a very young age, women with long and heavy blood flow, women who smoke and those with female relatives who suffer from such.
Menstrual Cramps or Dysmenorrhea
Menstrual cramps are the pain felt at the lower part of the abdomen during a menstrual period. Menstrual cramps can range from mild to severe discomfort. Mild cramps are usually short accompanied with light pain while severe cramps are so painful that most women excuse themselves from going to school, work, or any regular activities.
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term used to describe menstrual cramps. There are two types of dysmenorrheal- primary and secondary dysmenorrhea:
• Primary Dysmenorrhea
Primary dysmenorrhea is also known as common menstrual cramps. The main cause of pain in a primary dysmenorrhea is gynecological problem. Menstrual cramps usually begin a year or two after a woman gets her first menstrual period. This type of dysmenorrhea usually starts a day or two before menstruation starts and lasts for two to four days. This is also common for young women and usually subsides as the woman gets older or when she gives birth.
• Secondary Dysmenorrhea
Secondary dysmenorrhea is usually caused by all other medical conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, fibroid tumors, ovarian cysts, pelvic adhesion, and women using intrauterine device as birth control. This type of dysmenorrhea lasts longer than common period cramps.
Symptoms of Period Cramps
Symptoms of period cramps include pain in the abdomen which can be severe at times, pressure in the abdominal area, pain in the lower back, hips, and inner thighs, and lightheadedness. When cramps are severe, symptoms may include upset stomach which sometimes may lead to vomiting, headache, and loose bowel movements.
Causes of Period Cramps
During a menstrual cycle the inner lining in the uterus builds up for the possibility of getting pregnant. When pregnancy is not achieved the uterine lining becomes swollen and will eventually shed into menstrual flow. During the breaking down of the uterine lining, a molecular compound called prostaglandin is released which causes muscles in the uterus to contract. These contractions may cause blockage of blood supply to the endometrium which results to death of all the surrounding tissues in the endometrium. The uterine contractions while squeezing out all dead tissues toward the cervix and out to the vagina leads to the feeling of period cramps.
Leukotrienes are chemicals that get elevated during a menstrual cycle and also cause into period cramps. Other causes include:
• Endometriosis – is a condition in which the tissues lining the uterus are implanted outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube or ovaries. This is an extremely painful condition that causes period cramps.
• Uterine fibroids – are non-cancerous growths usually found in the wall of the uterus which may or may not cause pain.
• Adenomyosis – is a condition where tissues lining the uterus begin to grow as muscular walls in the uterus.
• Cervical stenosis – some women have small cervix opening which impedes the smooth flow of menstruation thus causing pain in the uterus.
• Pelvic inflammatory disease – is an infection in the female reproductive organ usually caused by a sexually transmitted disease. Read more about causes, symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and treatment
Why some period cramps are so painful
Period cramps are intensified especially for women with narrow cervical canal. This is because of the intense clots of bloody tissue passing through the cervix. Women with high level of prostaglandins are also prone to more painful period cramps.
Risk Factors of Period Cramps
Risk factors that may provoke dysmenorrhea are;
• Women’s age especially teenagers whose age are younger than 20
• Women who reach puberty at age below 11
• Women with heavy flow of bleeding
• Women with irregular menstrual cycle
• Women who have never given birth
• Women who smoke
• Women with family history of dysmenorrhea
• Women with narrow cervical canal
• Women with retroverted uterus
• Women who lacks exercise
• Women who are stressed
Diagnosis of Period Cramps
The woman herself can diagnose if she is suffering from a period cramp. This type of pain can be so familiar as it happens every menstrual cycle. When experiencing a different kind of pain, it is best to have it checked immediately.
Treatment for Period Cramps
Treatment varies from woman to woman. Some medications might work for one but not on another. Mild dysmenorrhea might be treated with adequate sleep, balanced eating and regular exercise. While some women use heating pads for temporary relief from pain.
Some medications include aspirin and acetaminophen. Aspirin only works for mild type of dysmenorrhea. The main treatment for period cramps is the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) which help decrease production of prostaglandin for a less or pain-free menstrual period. NSAIDS drugs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen.
These medications should be taken right at the start of cramps or before things get worse. For best results NSAIDS medications should be taken in a scheduled basis.
In cases when period cramps are too severe, women are advised to take birth control pills which contain more estrogen and progestin. By this way, ovulation is prevented which reduces the production of prostaglandin thus lessening the severity of period cramps. Another way is to let the woman use an IUD birth control method which slims down cramp severity to 50%. Take note that IUD containing no hormones can worsen period cramps.
Treatments for secondary dysmenorrhea must be diagnosed by a right physician to enable them to recommend the right medication or treatment.
Helpful Tips during a Period Cramp
Free yourself from stress as stress can affect many aspects of the human body, hence, it is better if the woman learns how to relax. When experiencing a period cramp, placing a small animal such as a pet cat or dog in the tummy area is helpful as the heat and vibrations help relax the muscles thus lessening the pain. Also, massaging the abdomen once in a while helps promote smooth blood flow. During period cramp, drinking products with caffeine and eating foods high in sodium and sugar should be avoided. When the period cramps get worse, never hesitate to consult a doctor right away.