by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Dysmenorrhea, the medical term for menstrual cramps, affects almost half of women everywhere, causing painful cramping before and during their periods. Some women are even bedridden by their discomfort, often having to miss work or school and cancel other plans. Reports vary on methods of data collection, but there’s no question the distress women suffer with menstrual cramps is a widespread problem.
This causes us to question why so many health practitioners in the past have regarded menstrual discomfort as an unjustified complaint. As the medical community has learned more about the cause of premenstrual syndrome, we now know that dysmenorrhea exists as a real condition. There are true medical reasons for your monthly painful symptoms. And seriously, why should women have this discomfort on a monthly basis when there are things that can be done to help?
We have hope for you. If you are in otherwise good health, the cramps you experience with your monthly period can be eliminated by giving your body the support it needs. Even severe cases of dysmenorrhea that are unable to be completely eliminated can be greatly helped with a few simple changes in lifestyle and improved nutritional approaches that promote your hormonal balance.
Primary dysmenorrhea is cramping in the lower abdominal area that can last for several days during your period. Because of excess prostaglandin levels dysmenorrhea can be accompanied by a number of uncomfortable symptoms that include bloating, nausea, vomiting, headache, backaches, pain that radiates down the thighs, or diarrhea. Prostaglandins are hormone–like fatty acids that send pain signals to the brain. The additional prostaglandins cause tiny contractions of the uterine wall and the gastrointestinal. They are very affected by our dietary intake.
In younger women, it is common to experience irregular menstrual cramps and they often resolve with age. After their first pregnancy, many women report their menstrual cramping lessens greatly as well.
You should be aware that occasionally a benign ovarian cyst or ectopic pregnancy can cause severe pelvic pain nearing the end of the cycle. We suggest that you visit with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing tenderness and sharp pain that will not subside during the onset of one’s menstrual flow.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is described as a type of congested, dull pain that begins as much as two weeks before the start of your monthly flow. Women in their 30’s and 40’s are more likely to experience this kind of cramping and these symptoms usually do not subside with age. It could be coupled with bloating, an increase in weight, breast tenderness, headaches, lower back discomfort, and irritability. Warning signs could end up being amplified by changing estrogen levels, which in turn trigger fluid retention. Chinese medical doctors look at this sort of painful period as a kind of blood stasis, in which important energy (chi) is unable to flow freely through the lower abdominal area. Root causes of this kind of discomfort apart from hormonal imbalance may consist of:
- Endometriosis (ectopic endometrial tissue)
- Adenomyosis (endometrial tissue within uterine wall)
- Pelvic infection or uterine infection
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
- Cervical stenosis (stricture of the internal cervical os, the opening to the uterus)
- Congenital uterine or vaginal abnormalities
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Ovarian cysts
- Ovarian torsion
An unhealthy weight, cigarette smoking, chronic pelvic infections and/or STD’s are typical risk factors for secondary dysmenorrhea. Please schedule a check-up with your healthcare practitioner if you have persistent menstrual cramping that remains the same or worsens or if your symptoms last for several months.
If you are free from the conditions listed above, we may be able to help you find natural relief from your monthly menstrual cramps. At Women to Women we have experienced excellent results in treating women suffering with dysmenorrhea with nutritional supplements, exercise programs and occasionally, progesterone support. Once hormonal support is restored, periodic cramps generally subside and often completely resolve.