Painful periods are a gynecological disorder that is estimated to affect approximately 30% of women of reproductive age. But before going on to explain why menstrual cramps occur, or dysmenorrhea in medical terms, we will give three facts that can encourage women who suffer from it every month: it improves with age, it usually improves after having children and there are effective treatments to ease it.
Having said that, we explain what dysmenorrhea is and how to treat it.
What is menstruation and why is it painful?
Each month, the lining of the uterus on the inside (called the endometrium) grows to form a "bed" in which the egg will nest if it is fertilized. If there is no fertilization, the endometrium is shed and expelled out of the body.
This occurs thanks to the secretion of prostaglandins, chemicals that contract the uterus, and these contractions, similar to those of childbirth, although of varying intensity, can be painful.
Although most of the time no disease is found that causes period cramps (primary dysmenorrhea), some pathologies make it worse (secondary dysmenorrhea). The most common is endometriosis, in which the endometrium, which in normal conditions should only grow inside the uterus, extends outside it.
A few days before the menstruation cycle, women may begin to notice a series of physical and psychological alterations. Both the duration and the intensity of these, mild or very intense, are variable and depend on each woman.
Among the physical alterations is pain, generally period cramps-like, in the lower abdomen and, sometimes, in the back. Also, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, a swollen belly, or a headache. On a psychological level, you can experience tiredness, sadness, anxiety, or irritability. When these menstruation symptoms follow the same pattern every month, the doctor can diagnose it as Premenstrual Syndrome.
What can I do to relieve menstrual pain?
There are several treatments for dysmenorrhea:
Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen: They are very effective in reducing period pain, especially if they are started as soon as the first symptoms are noticed and are continued regularly for two or three days.
Hormonal contraceptives: When severe pain is common during menstruation in women, the doctor may prescribe this type of treatment. They can be given in different ways: pills, patches, vaginal ring, implant under the skin, intrauterine device. Hormonal contraceptives thin the endometrium, which is the place where prostaglandins are made. Thus, uterine contractions, menstrual bleeding, and dysmenorrhea decrease.
Physical exercise: The scientific evidence is not conclusive, but regular physical exercise may reduce painful periods.
Applying heat to the lower belly area: Do it with a hot water bottle, heating pad, or patch — as needed has been shown in several studies to relieve menstrual pain and contractions.
Natural solutions and diet: Multiple diets, vitamins, and herbal remedies have been studied to relieve period pain, but the research is insufficient to recommend almost any such therapy.
Yoga and acupuncture appear to be beneficial too, but again, more studies are needed to confirm this.
Transcutaneous nerve electrostimulation: It consists of applying a small electrical current through electrodes on the skin, near the painful area. It is less effective than anti-inflammatories and contraceptives, but it may be helpful in some women who are unwilling or unable to take these drugs.
If despite using these treatments, menstrual cramps are still very intense, there may be a disease that is causing it. So, it will be necessary to perform diagnostic tests. Although this is rare, the truth is that the vast majority of women, with proper treatment, will be able to continue with their normal lives without menstrual pain limiting them.
About menstruation hygiene:
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