While the menstrual cycle can be easy for some teens and women, others may have painful cramps. The medical term for this pain is “dysmenorrhea”. Painful cramps is one of the most common and annoying part of your period and is estimated to be the leading cause of absence from school and work for girls and young women.
What causes the pain?
Menstrual cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus. When the body realizes that it is not pregnant, a hormone shift occurs that triggers the start of the period and the release of chemicals called prostaglandins. The higher the levels of prostaglandins, the stronger the uterine contractions. High levels may also cause nausea.
Pain usually occurs right before menstruation starts and on the first day of the menstrual period, when the prostaglandins levels are high. As menstruation continues and the lining of the uterus is shed, the levels of prostaglandins and pain decrease.
Why some women suffer painful periods and others don’t is not really known. But the more intense pain is associated with some factors such as:
- having a heavy blood flow
- having your first baby
- just starting your period
- having sensitivity to or overproduction of prostaglandins.
Are there types of dysmenorrhea?
Yes, primary dysmenorrhea means that your cramps are due to your cycle. You’ll feel these cramps in your lower belly or back. The pain can range from dull to throbbing and usually begins soon after a girl starts having menstrual periods. It becomes less painful with age and may stop entirely after you have your first baby.
Some girls may have other symptoms during their period such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea / constipation, bloating in the belly area and headaches, all of which can range mild to severe.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by a problem in the reproductive system,such as narrowing in the lower part of the uterus (cervix) or growths in the inner wall of the uterus (fibroids). The pain may get worse as the menstrual period continues and may not go away after it ends and tends to get worse, rather than better, over time.
Tips to Ease the pain
Menstrual cramps are painful, sometimes extremely so, but they are treatable. The following tips can help you get fast relief and lessen the pain during your next cycle.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs). Stop the production of prostaglandins that caused the pain in the first place
- Steer clear of coffee before and during your period because caffeine can make your cramps worse. Make sure you’re not sneaking it in with soda, chocolate, or tea.
- Water: drinking water keeps your body from retaining water, avoiding the painful bloating during menstruation.
- Calcium: can help decrease muscle cramping during menstruation. Food rich in calcium include dairy product, almonds and leafy green vegetables
- Heat: is highly effective for reducing menstrual pain, Applying a hot compress.to your abdomen and lower back may relieve pain.
- Soaking in a warm bath may also help to relieve painful cramps.
- Exercise: although the idea of exercise during your period may not be appealing, but it releases beta-endorphins, which are your own “ body morphine”, relieving the pain and helps to burn the prostaglandins.
- Hormone therapy. some doctors may prescribe the birth control pill. It reduces menstrual pain and cramping up to 90%, by keeping your hormones at a steady state, so the prostaglandin production doesn’t get triggered.
- Diet: avoid salty and fatty food that cause bloating and water retention.
- Chamomile or ginger tea: are a warm cramp-relieving drink. These herbal remedies have an anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effect and can reduce the muscle contractions and swelling associated with menstrual pain.
Consult your doctor
Women who do not respond after three months of treatment with NSAIDs and hormonal contraceptives may have secondary dysmenorrhea. Treatment will vary according to the underlying cause.