Most women will experience some form of dysmenorrhea, or pain during menstruation, at some point in their lives. For some, the pain is mild and manageable. For others, it can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with dysmenorrhea, there are a few things that can help. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at dysmenorrhea, what causes it, and how to manage it.
What Is Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for pain during menstruation. The pain can vary from person to person, ranging from mild cramping to severe pain that interferes with daily activities. Some women also experience other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. Dysmenorrhea can begin in adolescence and persist into adulthood.
There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common type and is not caused by an underlying condition. Secondary dysmenorrhea is less common and is caused by an underlying condition, such as endometriosis or fibroids.
What Causes Dysmenorrhea?
The exact cause of primary dysmenorrhea is unknown, but it is thought to be related to prostaglandins—hormone-like substances that are involved in inflammation and pain. Prostaglandins are produced in the lining of the uterus during menstruation. They cause the uterine muscles to contract so that the lining can be shed through the vagina. The more prostaglandins that are produced, the more intense the muscle contractions and the greater the pain level. Primary dysmenorrhea usually gets better over time as a woman’s body adjusts to the menstrual cycle.
Secondary dysmenorrhea has a variety of possible causes, including endometriosis (the growth of uterine tissue outside of the uterus), fibroids (noncancerous growths in the uterus), pelvic inflammatory disease (an infection of the reproductive organs), and ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs that develop on or near the ovaries).
How Is Dysmenorrhea Treated?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for managing dysmenorrhea; different women will find relief with different treatments. Some home remedies that have been found to be helpful include heat therapy (such as heating pads or warm baths), massage, relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing or yoga), over-the-counter pain relievers (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen), and birth control pills (which can help reduce prostaglandin levels). If home remedies don’t provide relief, your doctor may recommend prescription medication or surgery.
Here are some more tips on tricks to get rid of period cramps at home:
- Heating pad: A heating pad can also help ease the pain of dysmenorrhea. Place it on your lower abdomen or back for 10-15 minutes at a time. This helps to increase circulation in the area and can relieve tight and crampy muscles, like the uterus. When you have chronic menstrual cramps, the myometrium might be to blame. This is the middle layer of the uterine wall where the muscles are that contract and cause pain. Getting blood flow to this area with heat can help relax these muscles.
- Massage: Massaging the lower abdomen can also help to relieve pain. Try using a soothing essential oil, such as lavender, geranium, or chamomile. Massage can reduce muscle spasms when focused on the abdominal area. Full body massages may also help in that they promote full body relaxation.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and yoga, can help to ease the pain of dysmenorrhea by reducing stress levels. Relaxing gives your muscles a chance to loosen up and stop clenching, which can ease period pain.
- Yoga: Yoga can help to relax the mind and body and ease the pain. Some specific yoga poses that may help include Child’s Pose, Cat-Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, and Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Many yoga practitioners advise against inversion poses as this may hinder the expulsion of menstrual blood and negatively affect the downward energy flow out of the body.
- Birth control pills: Birth control pills contain synthetic hormones that can help to regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce the levels of prostaglandins, which can help to reduce the pain of dysmenorrhea. If home remedies don’t provide relief, your doctor may recommend prescription medication or surgery.
- Over-the-counter medication: There are a number of over-the-counter medications that can help relieve the pain of dysmenorrhea. NSAIDs are a common medication used for period pain. Be sure to take these medications as directed on the package and do not exceed the recommended dosage. NSAIDs work by reducing inflammation and pain. Common NSAIDs used to treat dysmenorrhea include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and mefenamic acid (Ponstel).
- Exercise: Exercise releases endorphins, which can help alleviate pain. Taking a brisk walk or going for a swim are two examples of low-impact exercises that can help ease the pain of dysmenorrhea.
Treatment of Secondary Dysmenorrhea
If the pain of dysmenorrhea is caused by an underlying condition, such as endometriosis or fibroids, treating that condition can help to ease the pain.
Endometriosis: Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus. This tissue can grow on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other areas in the pelvis.
Treating endometriosis can help to ease the pain of dysmenorrhea. Common treatments for endometriosis include hormonal therapy, surgery, and pain medication.
Fibroids: Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that form in the uterus. They are common, affecting up to 80% of women by age 50.
Fibroids can cause pain and other symptoms, such as heavy bleeding and pelvic pressure. Treatment for fibroids depends on the size and location of the growths, as well as the symptoms they cause. Treatment options include medication, surgery, and watchful waiting.
Dysmenorrhea—pain during menstruation—is common among women of all ages, but there are things that can help lessen the severity of the symptoms. If you’re struggling with dysmenorrhea, talk to your doctor about potential treatment options so that you can find relief and get back to your normal routine.
Get Help In Brentwood for Your Period Pain
If you’re experiencing painful periods, give us a call at Cool Springs OBGYN in Brentwood, Tennessee, and we can discuss treatment options. There are a number of effective treatments available that can help to ease your pain and get you back to your normal activities.