By Guest Blogger, Dr. Elizabeth S. Morgan, CMC Women’s Institute
If you are one of the many women who suffer during “that time of the month,” feel reassured you are not alone. More than 50% of menstruating women have pain for at least 1-2 days each month. Painful periods are the leading cause of women missing work and school (It is estimated that missed work due to pain with periods costs the U.S. $2 billion dollars per year). Furthermore, the accusation that the pain is “all in your head” is so last century. Here are some facts and tips that may help:
Severe pain with periods is called dysmenorrhea (sounds like “dis-men-or-ee-ha”—rhymes with [diarrhea]. Pain during your period can be classified as either primary or secondary dysmenorrhea. Women with primary dysmenorrhea have pain as a result of having their period. Symptoms may include: cramp-like pain in the lower abdomen or lower back, pain in the inner thighs, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, headache, and dizziness. Primary dysmenorrhea often begins soon after a young woman gets her first period. We understand that the lining of the uterus makes hormones called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins cause the uterus (which is a muscle) to contract or cramp. These hormones increase before your period and are released when your bleeding begins. Primary dysmenorrhea usually decreases after the first few days of your period.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain not solely caused by your period. Women with secondary dysmenorrhea have pain that begins before and gets worse during their period and it may not go away after their period ends. Some of the most common causes of secondary dysmenorrhea are endometriosis, fibroids, and infection. Endometriosis is a condition in which the lining of the uterus is found in other areas of the body, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This tissue can bleed and cause pain at the time of a menstrual period. Fibroids are growths that form on the outside, inside, or in the wall of the uterus. These growths are not cancerous but can make periods heavier and painful. Finally, infection, most commonly a sexually transmitted disease, can cause swelling and pain in the pelvis that gets worse with a menstrual period.
All women with menstrual pain can benefit from regular exercise, heat application to the lower abdomen, sleep, and relaxation (yoga or massage, for example). Sometimes orgasms can relieve menstrual cramps (!).
Your healthcare professional can help you manage your period pain. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen) block prostaglandins and can decrease symptoms. Birth control pills, patches, rings, and hormonal IUDs can also decrease period pain by keeping the lining of your uterus thin. If your doctor suspects your period pain is caused by something other than prostaglandins, he/she may order a pelvic ultrasound, perform cervix cultures to look for infection, or perform laparoscopy.
If you have severe pain with your periods, or if your pain lasts more than 2 or 3 days, seek help from a healthcare provider. It is not “in your head” and there are many options for you to use to help manage your pain.
Dr. Elizabeth S. Morgan specializes in helping women suffering from pelvic pain. CMC Women’s Institute has gynecologists dedicated to improving health care for women of all ages. For more information, please call 704-355-3149.
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