Cramping… sharp… throbbing… dull… achy… PAIN!
It’s all part of being a woman at “that time of the month”, right?!
Contrary to popular belief, painful periods are not normal.
Just because you have two X chromosomes doesn’t mean you should suffer in pain every month and miss out on the activities of your daily life!
Since dysmenorrhea – a fancy term for painful periods – is one of the most common complaints among women of reproductive age (up to 90%!). It is important to know that there is something to be done about it beyond popping anti-inflammatories such as Advil like candy or taking hormonal contraceptives. It all starts with understanding the cause, which can range from dietary and lifestyle factors to an underlying pathology that can commonly be missed.
So why does cramping typically occur?
As the endometrial lining of the uterus begins to shed during menstruation, inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins are released – often in higher amounts in women who experience ‘primary’ dysmenorrhea (painful periods without underlying pathology). These chemicals cause the uterus to contract quite strongly. As it tightens it can press against nearby blood vessels, resulting in the delivery of less blood and oxygen to the tissue of the uterus. Pain is usually experienced as a result of both the contraction of the uterus and the ischemia produced as the blood vessels become constricted.
Patients who experience this type of pain often do so for the first few days of their cycle. Symptoms tend to develop at the onset of menarche and may lessen with age and after pregnancy. Smoking, nutrient deficiency, lack of physical activity, and consuming an inflammatory diet all play a key role in the development of symptoms– all of which are modifiable.
When is period pain more serious?
Some patients experience ‘secondary’ dysmenorrhea, where their period pain is explained by an underlying reproductive health concern or structural abnormality. In these cases the pain can develop prior to, during, and even after menstruation and often worsens over time. The most common causes are in relation to endometriosis, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, and ovarian cysts. Less commonly, it may develop with certain anatomical malformations of the uterus, pelvic infections, after certain medical procedures (including the LEEP procedure for cervical dysplasia) and with the use of copper intrauterine devices (IUD). Oftentimes patients experience a range of additional symptoms depending on the specific cause, including heavy bleeding, irregular cycles, vaginal discharge, spotting, pain with intercourse, infertility, and pain with bowel movements or urination.
Once the particular cause is identified it can be appropriately treated, often in an effective way.
If you suspect there is something off with your cycles and want to get to the bottom of your period pain for good, book a consult with Dr. Geil by clicking HERE.
Dr. Jessica Geil, ND