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It is not uncommon for women to be told that pain and cramping with periods is just a normal part of life. This is a common misperception and periods should not produce more than minor discomfort. If you are experiencing severe pain with your periods, it’s a good idea to talk to a health provider as there may be a reason behind your pain. Some causes of painful periods are not serious and are easy to treat, but others are more serious and can be a sign of an underlying serious medical condition. A trained and certified women’s health provider can help determine which tests might be necessary to diagnose the cause of your painful periods, and recommend an appropriate course of treatment.
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Painful periods (dysmenorrhea), including severe cramping, affect approximately half of all menstruating women. The pain results from chemicals released to breakdown the lining of the uterus, and is most common just before the start of a period and continuing for the first few days of the cycle. The pain with periods that begins when young women begin menstruation and continues monthly is called primary dysmenorrhea. For many women with primary dysmenorrhea, the pain gets better over time, improving with age or after childbirth.
Secondary dysmenorrhea occurs when there is a disorder of the reproductive system that is causing pain during periods. This pain may start before a period begins, and often continues throughout the cycle and for several days after menstruation ends. The pain tends to get worse over time. This pain is stronger than menstrual cramps and can be painful enough that it keeps women from being able to participate in work, school, exercise, or other activities in life. Sometimes, women “curl up in a ball” and are unable to leave their bed for a few days during their menstrual cycle. Some conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhea are:
Keep track of your menstrual cycle and the pain associated with it. Note the dates, length, type of flow you experience (light, medium, heavy or spotting), and amount of pain you are having in order to determine what is normal for you and to keep track of any changes. This information is helpful to bring to your appointment. Several smartphone apps are now available to track menstrual cycles.
Drink plenty of water, especially when you are menstruating. Upping your water intake during heavy flow can help with fatigue and prevent dehydration.
Exercise regularly, for 30 minutes or more, at least three times a week. Regular exercise can help control estrogen and other hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.
Get plenty of rest. Taking time to rest whenever possible is important—especially just before, during and after your period.
Relaxation techniques can curb stress that interferes with a woman’s natural cycle. Some proven techniques include deep breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga.
Some women get relief from using a hot water bottle or heating pad to the pelvic area. Be careful, as prolonged use and/or high temperatures can cause burns to the area where the heat is placed.
At your visit, your doctor will discuss your history with you and may perform a pelvic examination or pelvic ultrasound to help determine the cause of your painful periods. Treatments for painful periods and severe cramping vary, depending on the cause of the pain, your age and whether you want to have children. Medical therapies are usually the first line of treatment, and there are surgical procedures to treat some of the conditions that cause painful periods.
Not sure where or how to get started? Our specialists are ready to listen. Schedule an appointment with an OBGYN to get started.
More than 50% of women have minor discomfort during their periods that can be relieved with rest or occasional use of over the counter pain relievers. However, periods should not disrupt your life. If your periods are becoming more painful over time or are keeping you from doing the things you want to do in life—it’s a good idea to follow up with your health care provider.
The lining of the uterus releases prostaglandins at the time of the menstrual cycle that causes menstrual cramps. When these cramps go from being a minor discomfort to causing pain before, during or after menstruation, there can be a disorder in the reproductive system causing the painful periods. Endometriosis, adenomyosis, and fibroids are the most common conditions causing painful periods.
Some conditions that cause painful periods may progress over time if left untreated and negatively impact fertility, such as endometriosis and fibroids. If you have any questions about whether or not your menstrual pain is normal, it’s a good idea to be seen by a provider for evaluation.
Talk to a care navigator or schedule an appointment at the Women’s Health & Wellness Center.