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March 15, 2019 | OB/GYN
If you’ve ever experienced painful periods, you’re not alone. The medical term for painful menstruation is “dysmenorrhea,” and many women suffer from dysmenorrhea on a monthly basis, making it one of the most common menstrual disorders. The initial onset of menstrual cramps often occurs during or just before a girl’s first menstrual period, although girls may not experience cramps for several months after their first period. Cramping pains are often stronger in younger women as well, but they may lessen with age or after a woman has given birth to one or more babies. While some women have relatively mild cramping that does not cause much of a disruption, others experience extremely painful periods that interfere with normal activities. Pay attention to the pain that occurs during your period. Extremely painful menstruation, menstrual pain that outlasts your period or changes in your pain symptoms over time can be a sign of another gynecological condition.
There are two types of dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea, the most common type, is pain or cramping that occurs directly as a result of menstruation. Researchers haven’t narrowed down the exact cause of primary dysmenorrhea, but some experts believe the cause to be hormonal in nature, attributing it to a specific type of natural chemical produced by the uterine lining called prostaglandins. Others claim that menstrual cramps result from a temporary lack of oxygen to the uterus caused by muscle contractions that cut off its blood supply. It is entirely possible that both factors have a role to play in the development of dysmenorrhea. Secondary dysmenorrhea results from a disorder of the reproductive system. Common causes of secondary dysmenorrhea include:
Secondary dysmenorrhea typically causes pain that is more severe and lasts longer than primary dysmenorrhea. This pain may increase over the course of the period and continue even after menstruation is over.
Treatment of dysmenorrhea depends on what is causing it. If your symptoms are relatively mild, you may experiment with different treatment methods to see what works best for you, but you should see your doctor for severe pain. Your doctor will perform a pelvic examination to determine whether your dysmenorrhea is primary or secondary. Home Remedies Symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea can range from mild to severe. If your symptoms are mild, you can usually manage them by applying heat to your abdomen and/or back as needed, as well as taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve) or aspirin (Bayer). Medication If your periods are so painful that they interfere with your normal activities, see your doctor. You may require prescription medication to relieve your symptoms, such as oral contraceptives or pain relievers. Surgery Secondary dysmenorrhea and primary dysmenorrhea that do not respond to other treatments may require surgery to correct. If your doctor recommends surgery, make sure you ask about the effects of the procedure, especially if you plan to have children in the future, as some operations may prevent you from bearing any more children.
Sources: “Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Dysmenorrhea-Painful-Periods?IsMobileSet=false “What Are Menstrual Cramps?” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/women/menstrual-cramps#1
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.