Last week, we had something strictly for the fellas, and this time, it’s the ladies’ turn! We’ll be looking at something that has been found to affect at least 50 percent of women worldwide. As the title of this post suggests, that condition is dysmenorrhea.
What Is Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is simply the medical term for the painful cramps in a woman’s lower abdomen that may occur just before or during her menstrual period. For some women, these cramps are merely an annoying discomfort, while for others, they can be severe enough to interfere with normal day-to-day activities during their periods. For others, though, they have to be admitted to the hospital for part of or for the entire duration of their periods. Whichever category you fall in to, Face2FaceAfrica is here to shed more light on this condition.
Two Types of Dysmenorrhea
Primary dysmenorrhea is another name for the common menstrual cramp. In this type, the cramps usually begin one to two years after a young girl starts getting her period. Pain usually is felt in the lower abdomen or back. Primary menstrual cramps can range from mild to severe. These cramps often start just before or at the onset of the period and continue for one to three days. Primary dysmenorrhea usually becomes less painful as a woman ages and starts giving birth.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is the type of menstrual cramps caused by a disorder in a woman’s reproductive organs. In this case, the women usually has a series of normal or painless menstrual periods before they start experiencing pain. These cramps usually begin quite early in the menstrual cycle — way before she’s expecting her period — and typically lasts longer than primary menstrual cramps.
Examples of conditions that could lead to secondary menstrual cramps include sexually transmitted infections, contraceptives (especially the intrauterine devices made of copper), fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis and even stress and anxiety.
Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea
Whether you have the primary or secondary type, the cramps you experience are quite similar and may only differ in intensity (how painful it is), duration, and the presence of other symptoms.
Symptoms of dysmenorrhea include:
- A dull, constant ache in your lower abdomen
- A series of intense cramping pains in your lower abdomen
- Feeling of some pressure in your lower abdomen
- Pain in your lower back and thighs that have radiated from your lower abdomen
- Intense lower abdominal cramps on passing stool
- Diarrhea-like symptoms
In secondary dysmenorrhea, there may be other symptoms, such as foul-smelling vaginal discharge (we discussed that here), heavy menstrual periods, pain during or after sexual intercourse, and even an inability to conceive.
Why Do We Get Menstrual Cramps?
This is a question that women have asked for centuries!
Simply put, if a woman doesn’t conceive during her cycle, she gets her period. Now, during a woman’s menstrual period, the lining of her womb is shed – this is the blood that she passes out through her vagina. To shed this lining, the muscles of her womb (the uterus) contracts (think of this as the womb squeezing itself).
For these contractions to occur, there are hormone-like substances known as prostaglandins, which the body releases to trigger the uterine contractions. Normally in the body, these prostaglandins are involved in pain and inflammation responses; therefore, the higher the levels of prostaglandins released, the more severe the menstrual cramps.
What Can You Do at Home To Relieve Menstrual Cramps?
To relieve mild menstrual cramps, you can try the following home remedies:
- Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower back or abdomen, below your navel.
- Take a warm bath.
- Lightly massage your lower back and/or abdomen.
- Take aspirin or another over-the-counter pain reliever, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. To gain as much relief as possible early, it is advised that you take these pain relievers as soon as you start experiencing the cramps. Please note that these drugs come with side effects. Read the leaflets in their packs carefully. If you have a history of bleeding problems or stomach ulcers, avoid NSAID pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Generally, to prevent the occurrence of menstrual cramps, the following lifestyle modifications can be adopted:
- Avoid foods that contain a lot of sugar, caffeine, and salt.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Make exercise a part of your weekly routine. Studies have shown that women who exercise regularly often have less menstrual pain.
- Follow a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Try to lose weight if you are overweight.
- Reduce your stress levels. We talked about this here. Studies have also shown that women who are stressed tend to have menstrual cramps. Stress has also been found to increase the severity of menstrual cramps.
RELATED: 5 Techniques To Manage Stress
When To See Your Doctor
If you’ve just started menstruating recently and you experience menstrual cramps, most likely your pain is primary dysmenorrhea, but ladies, please see your doctors and/or gynaecologists if:
- You have had normal/painless periods and then you start having pains.
- Your home treatments and pain relievers do not help after using them for up to 3 months during your periods.
- You have had an intrauterine contraceptive placed and you are experiencing pain.
- You have very heavy periods and pass clotted blood along with the pain.
- Your pain occurs very early in your menstrual cycle (about 5 days or more before your period is supposed to begin).
- The pain continues after your period is over.
- You have foul smelling vaginal discharge and you experience lower abdominal or menstrual cramps.
- You have a sudden or severe lower abdominal pain, especially if you are sexually active.
- Your period is late and you are experiencing lower abdominal pain.
Your treatment will then depend on your doctor’s findings at the hospital.
Even though dysmenorrhea by itself is not a life-threatening condition, the negative effect it can have on a woman’s life can be quite profound. Ladies, it needn’t be so. You don’t have to be that lady whom everyone knows when she is on her period. Take charge of your health today…you can manage your cramps and reduce their occurrence.
Stay healthy, ladies!