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Menstrual cramps — why does my period hurt so bad?

Fatigue, increased appetite, irritability. Yikes! Period’s coming! There’s no doubt if severe underbelly pain and reins pain occur as well. A quick jaunt to the chemist’s for pills, hoards of sweets, and that “I’ll be fine” attitude. That’s your armour.

Dominika Olchowik

Published: 9.04.20216 minreading time

Illustration: Jarek Danilenko

  1. Dysmenorrhea symptoms
  2. Causes of painful periods
  3. Period cramps: primary and secondary
  4. Medicine for period cramps
  5. How to reduce period pain at home?
  6. References

Knock, knock! It’s Your KAYA team here! We feel that you should know that we’re always striving to make our articles inclusive but sometimes research gets in our way. Unfortunately, in order to remain 100% reliable we’re forced to stick to the binary labelling put forward in the research we’re backing our texts with.

How often do your periods hinder your focus, plans, or force you to spend a few days under a blanket? It’s estimated that painful periods affect 84% of menstruating women, while 5 to 14% must skip classes or work because of period pain.

No matter how strong you are, don’t underestimate menstrual pain. To reduce period pain it’s sometimes enough to take an analgesic. Often, you just need to rest. In some cases, though, more elaborate pain medication is needed. You might want to keep your doctor on speed dial.

Dysmenorrhea symptoms

Dysmenorrhea is a group of symptoms accompanying menstrual bleedings. If contraception doesn’t happen, the myometrium shrinks. It then discharges the excessive layers of endometrium together with the menstrual fluid. The cramps result from the amount of prostaglandins. These are inflammation-generating hormones. Their functioning scope is not limited to the uterus. They operate inside the whole organism. This is why women with dysmenorrhea whose prostaglandins levels are elevated often suffer from additional symptoms:

  • headaches and dizziness,

  • vomiting and nausea,

  • diarrhoea,

  • weakness and fatigue,

  • insomnia,

  • palpitation,

  • hand tremors.

Painful periods are often preceded by PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Its symptoms are: mood swings, irritability, breast pain, headaches, swelling, and appetite disorder. To reduce the symptoms of PMS you might take pain relievers or spasmolytics. Try relaxing, keeping a healthy diet, and taking supplements. If the ailments are worrying and nothing works — make an appointment with your doctor.

You might also want to read our article about menstruation.

Causes of painful periods

As if periods weren’t enough ;), dysmenorrhea comes in two types. Women assume that period pain is a given. They look at it as part and parcel of menstruation. Yet, painful periods might suggest diseases or serious hormonal imbalance. This is why a quick response and proper diagnosis is so important. Not only can it alleviate the pain but also detect any reproductive organs’ abnormalities.

Period cramps: primary and secondary

Painful menstrual cramps usually start after 2 to 3 years after the menarche (the first period). The menstrual cycle is then regular, the organism gets used to its new role, and keeps developing. And the hormones “go rampant”. At this age, many young people struggle with acne, sweating, and oily scalp. Sometimes, women also suffer from severe menstrual pain then. It’s called primary dysmenorrhea.

Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by hormonal imbalance and increased production of prostaglandins. High concentration of these during bleeding results in uterus contractions and menstrual cramps. Primary dysmenorrhea mainly affects women aged between 15 and 20, although it’s not a rule — some sources claim the range is 20 to 25. The treatment of primary dysmenorrhea relies on taking pain relievers and keeping a healthy diet.

On the other hand, secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by specific cases:

  • Endometriosis. The endometrium travels to other places in the organism. Whenever it lands, it causes inflammation. It’s because the blood, which should normally flow out through the vagina during menstruation, gathers and creates cysts and concretions (read our article about endometriosis).

  • Uterine fibroids. Benign cancer of the reproductive organs. It might cause severe pains during periods and sex. Women suffering from uterine myoma often have urodysfunctions. They should be under constant supervision of their doctor, especially if they want to have children. Uterine fibroids might cause fertility problems.

  • Polyps. They result from hormonal imbalance. Cervical polyps might increase menstrual bleedings and uterus cramps.

  • Hypothyroidism. Thyroidal hormones are tightly connected to reproductive hormones. Deficiencies might result in increased estrogen production in the ovaries. This can negatively impact menstruation.

Medicine for period cramps

To alleviate menstrual cramps you can go for pharmacological treatment or home remedies. Both have their pros and cons. Medicines work fast and bring relief immediately. However, drugs might negatively impact the bacterial flora of your digestive system. Home remedies, on the other hand, despite their gentler effect on your organism, usually aren’t enough to combat menstrual cramps.

As far as the former go, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are recommended for severe menstrual cramps. They impede the synthesis of prostaglandins. Such medicines include:

  • Paracetamol,

  • Ibuprofen,

  • Naproxen.

Keep in mind that NSAIDs might irritate your gastric mucosa. They shouldn’t be used regularly. At length, they may cause stomach ulcers. Analgesics containing acetylsalicylic acid (such as aspirin) reduce the pain, but might intensify menstrual bleeding. There are also antispasmodics which might help with menstrual cramps.

In some cases, your doctor might prescribe monophasic hormonal birth control to reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps. Gynaecological examination should precede such treatment. Additionally, a breast check and medical tests should be carried out.

How to reduce period pain at home?

It’s also advisable to try home remedies. They’re less invasive than analgesics and might alleviate the symptoms experienced during the menstrual cycle. We highly recommend:

  • Physical activity. No one’s asking you to run a marathon, of course. Or to be a record-breaking swimmer :) Many women cut down on sports during menstruation. But if you’re experiencing chronic pelvic pain, doing yoga or light exercises might do wonders. They will help alleviate the pain in your abdomen and relax the knotted muscles!

  • Warm compresses. If menstrual bleeding isn’t heavy, a warm water bottle or a heating pad might do the trick. They can reduce the cramps and alleviate abdominal pain. We recommend our cherry pit heating pad, which works equally well as both warm and cold compress. Let us help you with the pain!

  • Herbal brews. Many of these work just like antispasmodics. They can reduce the painful dysmenorrhea. You should definitely try lemon balm, mint, or camomile tea.

  • Healthy diet. Eat light not to burden your stomach and avoid bloating. Calcium can also reduce period cramps. It can be found in dairy products, nuts, and fish. Don’t forget to drink water! Dehydration might worsen your mood. Avoid alcohol and coffee during menstruation. Unreasonable amounts of tea cups can also have a negative impact on your cramps. Theine elevates blood pressure and intensifies the bleeding.

  • Relax. During your periods rest and shameless idleness are due. Stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) negatively impact your organism. This might intensify menstrual cramps.

Pain comes and goes. Menstrual cramps might not always affect you. All menstruating women know that during menstruation mood can change kaleidoscopically. Sometimes it’s difficult to read your own body. However, pain is the symptom we shouldn’t underestimate.

Talking about menstrual pain, I’m thinking about menstrual cramps. They sometimes radiate to your reins. Severe and stitching pains might come from other sources though. So, once again for the back row: visit your doctor to make sure your ailments are a natural consequence of rampant hormones and not a developing disease.

References

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/period-pain/

https://medlineplus.gov/periodpain.html

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/what-can-i-do-about-cramps-and-pms

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