Menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea in medical terms, are pains in the abdomen and pelvic areas that can be experienced by a woman as a result of her menstrual period.
For some women, the discomfort is merely annoying. For others, menstrual cramps can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities for a few days every month.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a French artist, once said:
“the pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
Although he was referring to the difficulties he was having in painting because of health problems but we can all agree that this quote could definitely apply to women. For those who struggle with menstrual cramps, it is true that pain does eventually go away, but only to return the following month.
What causes menstrual cramps?
With menstrual cramps, mild to intense abdominal cramping begins within 24 hours of the start of your period and continues for days. Symptoms of period pain include:
- Dull throbbing
- Cramping pain in the lower abdomen
- pain in the lower back and thighs
- nausea and vomiting
- Loose Bowels
Approximately once in every 28 days, if there is no sperm to fertilize the egg, the uterus contracts to expel its lining. Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins involved in pain and inflammation trigger the uterine muscle contractions. The contractions inhibit the blood flow to the lining of the uterus, or endometrium. It may also happen because there are high levels of leukotrienes during menstruation.
Other causes include:
- Adenomyosis: The tissue that lines your uterus begins to grow into the muscular walls of the uterus.
- Uterine fibroids: These noncancerous growths in the wall of the uterus can cause pain.
- Cervical stenosis: In some women, the opening of the cervix is small enough to impede menstrual flow, causing a painful increase of pressure within the uterus.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease: This infection of the female reproductive organs is usually caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.
Some non-medical options that may provide relief are:
- Improve your diet
Research has shown that reducing fat and increasing vegetables in your diet may help ease monthly cramps. Anti-inflammatory foods like cherries, blueberries, squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers are good choices. Fishes that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are also healthy choices. Eat more calcium-rich beans, almonds, and dark leafy vegetables.
- Reach for heat
Try using a heating pad or microwaveable warm cozy on your abdomen during your period. Some find great period pain relief with a soak in a hot bath or shower.
Massage your abdomen for about 5 minutes a day with certain aromatic essential oils as massaging increases the blood flow. This also helps to relieve menstrual cramp pain.
- Get a good sleep
In a study found that women who had insomnia reported more severe dysmenorrhea and more interference with daily activities due to symptoms compared to women who did not have insomnia. Practice good sleep hygiene to keep painful menstruation symptoms out of reach.
Exercise releases endorphins, brain chemicals that promote well being. Physical activity, particularly yoga, may ease the pain of menstrual cramps. In one study, young women who practiced yoga for 60 minutes once a week for 12 weeks felt less menstrual distress and pain compared to those who did not do yoga. Other exercises like walking, running, or swimming also helps relieve menstrual cramps.
If menstrual cramps disrupt your life every month, if your symptoms progressively worsen or if you just started having severe menstrual cramps, see your doctor.