MENSTRUAL CRAMPS: what you need to know

Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) can cause a lot of discomfort and could be very annoying. Most women experience menstrual cramps at one point or the other. Although, the frequency and severity differ. Many women experience menstrual cramps a few days before and during their menstruation and the pain usually diminishes towards the end. Women feel this pain differently, it could be abdominal pain, back pain, pain in the thighs; sometimes the pain is accompanied by passing loose stools, dizziness and vomiting.

Most times the pain starts a few years after menstruation commences, sometimes it gets better as you get older and may totally cease after having your first child. The pain varies in severity for each woman; while some may feel mild pain that barely interferes with their daily activities, there are some who require hospitalization because of their menstrual cramps.

Menstrual cramps can be classified into primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea based on the cause.

 

PRIMARY DYSMENORRHEA
Primary dysmenorrhea is the menstrual cramp that occurs before or during menstruation without any underlying condition. That is the pain is caused by the period itself and not as a result of a health condition. There are a lot of changes that occurs in your reproductive organs during your menstrual cycle. Among this is the preparation of the uterus (womb) to make it conducive for fetal (baby) growth; following ovulation, an increase in the production of the hormone progesterone causes the endometrium ( lining of the uterus or womb) to thicken in preparation for pregnancy.

In the absence of fertilization, the production of this hormone reduces and the thickness of the endometrium can no longer be maintained. A compound called prostaglandin is produced which cuts off of blood supply to the endometrium, this causes it to degenerate. The degenerated endometrium is then shed out through the vagina along with blood and tissue fluid through the contraction of the uterus which can cause some discomfort or pain. Prostaglandin aids the contractions of uterus.

In primary dysmenorrhea, the level of prostaglandin is very high and this causes the uterus to contract too strongly.

 

SECONDARY DYSMENORRHEA
Secondary dysmenorrhea is the pain felt during your period due to an underlying health condition such as;
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a bacterial infection of the reproductive organs that causes inflammation of these organs and pain.

Endometriosis, a painful condition whereby the tissue lining the uterus starts to grow on other parts of the reproductive system like the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Cervical stenosis, a condition whereby the cervix is too narrow. This causes menstrual flow to be too slow and the blood in the uterus causes build up of pressure in it thereby causing Pain

Uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous growth in the uterus. They can cause abnormal uterine bleeding and cramps.
There are several other health conditions associated with the reproductive organs that can cause menstrual cramps.

 

HOW TO RELIEVE MENSTRUAL CRAMPS
– Stay well hydrated. Water prevents bloating. Also stay away from things that can cause dehydration such as alcohol.

– Apply heat compress on the abdomen

– Painkillers to lessen the pain. It’s better to take the painkillers a few days before you start your period for it to be more effective. NSAIDS like diclofenac, piroxicam and ibuprofen are particularly effective because they reduce prostaglandin formation.

– Taking magnesium supplements or foods rich in magnesium such as dark green vegetables and peanuts can help reduce the pain. But take note that magnesium can interfere with the action of some drugs.

– Regular exercise as studies have shown that women who exercise frequently have lesser occurrence of menstrual cramps

– Have a warm bath

– Ginger can help relieve primary dysmenorrhea

– Have a healthy diet. Your diet goes a long way in affecting your period. Eating food that is rich in vitamins, omega-3 fatty acid and calcium is advisable they help prevent inflammation thereby reducing menstrual cramps. It is better to cut low on junk food days before your period starts, it’s not the time to indulge your cravings and sweet tooth as these food types especially those with a lot of sugar and trans fatty acids increase inflammation and worsens menstrual cramps

– Massaging your abdomen can provide some relief as massage increases blood circulation

– Do not take caffeinated drinks

– Stress can also contribute to menstrual cramps. So know your stress triggers and avoid them as your period approaches

– Get adequate sleep. Insomnia tends to increase cramps

– Birth control pills. These pills contain artificial estrogen and progesterone and can reduce period pain or flow. Seek medical advice before using birth control pills for menstrual cramps as they have their own side effects.

 

WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION

Sometimes, menstrual cramps can be so severe that immediate medical attention is required. In such cases, your doctor would require tests to rule out any underlying health condition before placing you on treatment. And if your cramps are due to a health condition (secondary dysmenorrhea), appropriate treatment will be carried out.