Aching menstrual cramps can often make you feel uncomfortable and drowsy. They only add to an overworked, stressful day and all you want to do is find some space to sleep away in silence.
While cramps are easily the most annoying part of a menstrual cycle, the pain can be eased with over-the-counter medication.
However, if the medication isn’t helping and you find yourself missing important work, you may want to look into this further.
In fact, doctors refer to such severe cramps as dysmenorrhea in medical speak. It’s when the uterine contractions cause menstrual cramps that are accompanied by high intensity pain and can last anywhere between two to five days.
Based on the severity and effects, dysmenorrhea can be further divided into primary and secondary dysmenorrhea and both require different kind of medical intervention.
So let’s take a look at how dysmenorrhea affects your body and should you worry about particularly painful period cramps? This guide will answer all your basic concerns.
Dysmenorrhea: Types And Symptoms
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Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful menstrual periods that are a result of uterine contractions. Medical experts have divided it into two major dysmenorrhea types: primary and secondary; based on the intensity of the pain, symptoms, and even infection.
Here’s how both are defined and identified.
- It’s when the pain from menstrual cramps comes back over and over again. This is a standalone issue and not due to other diseases.
- The pain usually starts one or two days before you get your period. It’s usually mild to severe, and affects the lower abdomen, thighs, and back.
- It can last 12 to 72 hours and you may have other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and even diarrhoea.
- These menstrual cramps may become less painful as you age and may stop when you have a baby.
- When you have a painful period because of an infection or a disorder in your reproductive organs, it’s called secondary dysmenorrhea.
- The pain usually begins earlier during the cycle and lasts longer than common menstrual cramps.
- You may not experience vomiting, fatigue, nausea or diarrhoea.
- Several medical conditions can trigger secondary dysmenorrhea including endometriosis, fibroids, adenomyosis, and Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
How secondary dysmenorrhea can cause menstrual cramps
The following medical conditions can cause cramps in case of secondary dysmenorrhea:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): This is an infection caused by bacteria. It starts in the uterus and can spread to other reproductive organs. It can cause pain in the stomach or pain during sex.
- Endometriosis: In this condition, the tissue lining the uterus is found outside of the uterus. Since these pieces of tissue bleed during your period, they can cause swelling and pain.
- Adenomyosis: The lining of the uterus grows into the muscle of the uterus. It can cause the uterus to grow much bigger than it should be, and can also cause abnormal bleeding and pain.
- Fibroids: These are growths that occur on the inside, outside or in the walls of the uterus.
Why Do You Have Painful Menstrual Cramps?
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During your menses, the uterus contracts to help expel its lining and you experience painful cramps when a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin tightens the uterus.
The higher the levels of prostaglandin, the more severe are the cramps. When your uterus contracts too tightly, it can press against the nearby blood vessels cutting off the oxygen supply to the muscle tissue. So you feel the pain when the part of the muscle loses its oxygen supply.
How Much Pain Is Normal?
Luckily, both primary and secondary menstrual cramps can be treated. So if you have unusual or severe pain that lasts for more than three days, consult your doctor.
Here’s what will follow:
- Describe your symptoms and share details about your menstrual cycle with your doctor
- Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam. This includes examining your vagina, cervix and also uterus. The doctor will look for any changes or lumps.
- They may also take a small sample of your vaginal fluid for further testing.
- You may be recommended a laparoscopy or an ultrasound if your doctor feels that you have secondary dysmenorrhea. If the test results indicate a problem, your doctor will discuss the possible treatments with you.
Sometimes, tampons can also result in severe infection or toxic shock syndrome. If you use tampons and develop the following symptoms, get medical help right away:
- Fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- Dizziness or a rash
How To Get Relief From Menstrual Pain And Dysmenorrhea Types
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In case of mild cramps, you can get relief by following some of these practices:
- Avoid foods that contain caffeine.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.
- Place a heating pad or a hot water bottle on your abdomen or lower back where it’s hurting.
- Most doctors usually recommend ibuprofen as soon as the cramps start. It’s generally considered a safe medicine as it belongs to the class of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They are also known to reduce the output of prostaglandins. Do consult your doctor beforehand about the drug that you can safely consume for treating mild period cramps.
- Eat the right food and exercise regularly. In fact, women who exercise regularly have fewer period cramps than those who don’t.
- If your condition demands so, your doctor might also suggest oral contraceptives for pain relief.
- Try to reduce stress, practise yoga and breathing exercises.
- Take a warm bath before hitting the bed.
When Should You Consult A Doctor?
Severe cramps during periods are a source of major discomfort for women. They can keep you away from doing your routine chores. But don’t let it put your life on hold.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms and dysmenorrhea types, consult with your health care provider. If your cramps are persistent and painful, then let your doctor know.
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