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Menstrual Cramps

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Introduction

Menstrual cramps, also called dysmenorrhoea, are pulsating pain that you might feel in your lower abdomen during or just before your period. For most women, menstrual cramps cause irritation and inconvenience. For some, it may interfere with their regular activities for a few days.

Menstrual cramps become less painful with age and may disappear after you have your first baby.

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What are the Causes of Menstrual Cramps?

There are two types of menstrual cramps:

Primary Dysmenorrhoea: The contraction of the womb muscle causes pain. It is more common among women under 30. Stress can be a causal factor.

Your uterine contracts during periods. And when this contraction is very strong, the nearby blood vessels get pushed, cutting off oxygen to the uterus. This deprivation of oxygen causes the pain that you experience during periods. A chemical called prostaglandins controls the contraction of the uterus. That’s why higher levels of this chemical mean you will get severe menstrual cramps.

Secondary Dysmenorrhoea:  Pain that is caused by factors other than muscle contraction is known as secondary dysmenorrhoea. Some causes of secondary dysmenorrhoea are:

  • Uterine Fibroids: Non cancerous cells in the walls of the uterus
  • Pelvic Inflammatory disease: Bacterial infection in the reproductive organ caused
  • Adenomyosis: Uterus lining grows into the walls of the uterus
  • Endometriosis: Uterus lining implants on the outer part of the uterus
  • Cervical stenosis: Opening of the cervix narrows and interferes with menstrual flow causing pain

What are the Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps?

Some symptoms of menstrual cramps are:

  • ● Severe pain in your lower abdomen
  • ● Radiating pain in your lower back, legs, and lower back
  • ● Stomach cramps
  • ● Nausea
  • ● Vomiting
  • ● Diarrhoea
  • ● Weakness
  • ● Fatigue

The symptoms of menstrual cramps can be easily confused with other medical conditions. You should consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

How is Menstrual Cramps Diagnosed?

Your doctor will recommend a pelvic examination and check your medical history. A pelvic examination will determine if there are any irregularities in your uterus or if there is an infection.

Your doctor might recommend further tests to ascertain the cause of the menstrual cramps. These tests may include:

  • ● Ultrasound
  • ● Laparoscopy
  • ● CT scan
  • ● MRI scan

How is Menstrual Cramps Treated?

Based on the diagnosis, your doctor might recommend a treatment plan that includes:

  • Painkillers: Your doctor might recommend you to take pain killers just before your period begins. You might have to take them for a couple of days or until the pain subsides.
  • Birth control pills: Birth control pills contain hormones that effectively reduce the intensity of menstrual cramps.
  • Surgery: Your doctor may recommend surgery where the cramps are caused by endometriosis or fibroids. In extreme cases, when all other treatments fail, your doctor might suggest that you surgically remove the uterus where all other treatments fail.

Menstrual cramps can also be treated by making lifestyle changes like:

  • ● Taking adequate rest
  • ● Abstaining from alcohol and tobacco
  • ● Avoiding excess salt and caffeine
  • ● Managing stress
  • ● Acupuncture or acupressure
  • ● Regular exercise

You can also try home remedies to ease the pain. Some of them are:

  • ● Using heating pads or a hot-water bag on your abdomen and lower back
  • ● Taking dietary supplements like vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-6 have also shown to be effective in reducing cramps
  • ● Herbal products like fennel and pycnogenol can also help lessen the pain

What should you do before meeting your doctor?

Your doctor might have a host of questions for you about the onset and intensity of your menstrual cramps. Before you meet your doctor, have the following information handy:

  • ● Any pre-existing medical conditions you have.
  • ● Any recent stressors in your life
  • ● Medications you are taking.
  • ● Age at which you started menstruating
  • ● Information about your period cycle and duration
  • ● Menstrual bleeding irregularities
  • ● All the symptoms that accompany the cramps
  • ● Whether sexual intercourse is painful
  • ● Family history of menstrual cramps

Period pains are usually taken for granted by family members, colleagues, and sometimes even doctors. It is considered a part of being a woman. This notion discourages women from seeking help even in the face of severe debilitating pain. However, you don’t have to put up with it just because you are expected to visit your doctor if the pain prevents you from performing your regular activities. There could be other underlying causes that can be ruled out only after a proper diagnosis.

What are the Risks Associated with Menstrual Cramps treatments?

You can be at higher risk for severe menstrual cramps if:

  • ● You are under 30
  • ● You typically have heavy bleeding during your period.
  • ● Your menstrual bleeding is irregular.
  • ● You have a family history of menstrual cramps.
  • ● You smoke
  • ● You started menstruating at or before the age of 11

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FAQ's

Can Treatments for Painful Periods Cause Infertility?

A new study suggests that pain relief medicines called NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) affect ovulation and cause infertility in women.

How Long do Menstrual Cramps Last?

Menstrual Cramps usually last for 48 to 72 hours. Sometimes, it may last longer. The pain may start before the period begins after you Bleed.

How do you Stop Period Cramps?

It depends on how severe the pain is. For mild cramps, using a heating pad on your abdomen can help you feel better. Over-the-counter painkillers can also ease pain. However, you should see a doctor if the pain is persistent and occurs every month.

How is Premenstrual Syndrome PMS Different from Period Pain?

Period Pain and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are different. PMS may have lots of symptoms like weight gain, irritability, fatigue, and bloating. Moreover, PMS starts about one to two weeks before your period. Whereas period pains start a day or two before your period or when the bleeding begins.

How Can you Tell the Difference Between Menstrual Cramps and Gas Pains?

It is possible to confuse gas pains with Menstrual Cramps. What differentiates the two is that menstrual cramps start as a mild throbbing pain that gets intense and spread to the lower back, lower abdomen, and legs. Pain caused by gas does not radiate to other parts of the body.

When to Call your Doctor?

Severe Menstrual Cramps can bring your life to a halt, thus reducing the quality of your life. If the pain is so excruciating that your daily routine is severely impaired, visit your doctor.

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