Some amount of cramping and pain during a woman’s menstruation is common – during a period the lining developed in the foregoing few weeks in preparation of fertilization of the egg produced by the woman during ovulation, is shed by the uterus. This is done by contractions of the uterus, which cause pain, so to an extent painful menstrual cramps are common and even considered normal.
However when the painful menstrual cramps are so severe as to restrict a woman’s ability to go about her normal daily activities, then they are known as Dysmenorrhea. So why do some women experience more severe cramps and more pain than others?
There are many factors that can contribute to painful menstruation; and main among them are-
- Chemicals called prostaglandins are present in the endometrial lining of the uterus and are released during menstruation, which cause the uterus to contract and shed its lining. Higher amounts of prostaglandin are associated with more severe menstrual cramps and are thought to be an important factor in primary dysmenorrhea. Quite simply women who have greater contractions suffer more pain.
- A narrow cervical canal is also thought to contribute to painful menstrual cramps. For this reason many women find that their menses become less painful after childbirth.
- Structural abnormalities of the uterus, such as a retroverted uterus could also contribute to menstrual pain.
- Women also find that they have more painful periods when they have been more sedentary in the foregoing few weeks; so lack of exercise is known to be a contributory factor to menstrual pain.
- Emotional disturbance and stress can also contribute to painful menstrual periods.
So how do you resolve painful menstrual cramps and what is the treatment?
For menstrual cramps that are not very severely painful, regular over the counter pain medications such as aspirin or acetaminophen can work quite well. However if the pain is more severe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil etc.) may be required.
One of the main reasons for using birth control pills for reasons other than contraception is for pain management during periods. Using birth control pills (combination pills containing estrogen and progesterone) and even some intrauterine devices (other than the ones that contain copper) can greatly reduce and even in cases eliminate painful menstrual cramps.
Procedures such as endometrial ablation where the uterine lining is burned or vaporized, may also help reduce pain during menstruation.
Many women, who prefer not to use hormonal treatment or pharmaceutical medications; or those who do not tolerate them well; or for some reason have been advised against using them, can explore the options of alternative treatments. Acupuncture, acupressure, fish oil supplements, magnet therapy and other nutritional supplements have all been used with varying degrees of success for treating painful menses.
Since lack of exercise or sedentary lifestyle can be a significant factor that contributes to painful menstrual cramps, becoming more active and developing a regular exercise routine can be a natural and healthy way to combat them.