Menstrual cramps are a pain. By even the most conservative definitions, well over
40% of women everywhere suffer from painful pelvic cramping, or dysmenorrhea, along
with other disruptive symptoms before, during and after their periods. Cramps can
be accompanied by heavy bleeding, mood swings, fatigue and bloating, and can leave
some women bedridden, or missing work and other obligations every month.
Menstrual cycles last between 25 to 32 days, which means that some women spend one
third of their lives suffering from cramps. That’s quite a burden on one’s quality
of life. While reports vary on the way data are collected and which populations
are surveyed, there’s little doubt that having intense discomfort with your periods
is a global issue.
With all this evidence, why, did so many doctors dismiss menstrual cramps as a “myth”?
As more about the physiology of PMS is revealed, we now understand that dysmenorrhea
is a real condition, with genuine physiological causes.
And even better, if you have no serious underlying health conditions, you can alleviate
menstrual cramping simply by giving your body the right support. Even deeply entrenched
cases of menstrual cramps can be improved considerably with changes in lifestyle
and nutrition that encourage hormonal balance.
Primary dysmenorrhea is crampy pelvic pain that lasts more than several
days during your monthly blood flow. It can be accompanied by a number of related
symptoms, including bloating, nausea, vomiting, headaches, backaches, pain that
radiates down the thighs, and diarrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by excess
prostaglandin. Prostaglandins are hormone-like fatty acids that send pain signals
to the brain. These additional prostaglandins cause both the small muscle contractions
in the uterine wall and the gastrointestinal symptoms that accompany dysmenorrhea.
This kind of spasmodic menstrual cramp is most common in younger women and often
resolves itself as they get older. Many women also report their menstrual cramping
dissipates after their first pregnancies.
Take note that sometimes a benign ovarian cyst, pelvic infection or an ectopic pregnancy
can cause acute pelvic pain toward the end of your cycle. These conditions can be
life threatening, especially if these symptoms are sudden and intense. If you are
experiencing tenderness and sharp pain that does not subside with the onset of your
menstrual flow, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is characterized by a congested, dull pain that
begins as early as two weeks before the start of your flow. This kind of cramping
is more common in women in their 30’s and 40’s and usually does not get better with
age. It can be accompanied by bloating, weight gain, breast tenderness, headaches,
lower back pain and irritability.
Symptoms may be exacerbated by fluctuating estrogen levels, which in turn cause
fluid retention. Traditional Chinese Medicine views this kind of painful period
as a form of blood stasis, in which vital energy is unable to flow freely through
the lower abdomen.
Underlying causes of secondary dysmenorrhea other than hormonal imbalance can include:
- Endometriosis (ectopic endometrial tissue)
- Ovarian cysts
- Adenomyosis (endometrial tissue within uterine wall)
- Pelvic infection
- Cervical stenosis (stricture of the internal cervical os, the opening to
- Congenital uterine or vaginal abnormalities
- Intrauterine device (IUD) — most commonly the copper IUD
Common risk factors for secondary dysmenorrhea include obesity, cigarette smoking,
chronic pelvic infections and/or STDs. If you have persistent menstrual cramping
that either remains the same or worsens over the course of a few months, schedule
a check-up with your healthcare practitioner to find out what’s going on.
Moving on from menstrual cramps
If none of the above conditions is present, you’re a good candidate for natural
menstrual cramp relief. A combination approach that includes medical-grade nutritional
supplements, exercise and herbal support can make a huge difference in how you feel
every month. When hormonal balance is restored, menstrual cramps usually ease up
and often subside completely. Now that’s a relief!
1 MerckMedicus Modules: Dysmenorrhea — Epidemiology. URL: http://www.merckmedicus.com/pp/us/hcp/
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