Menstrual cramps are pains felt in the abdominal pelvic, and lower back areas of the body prior to and during menstruation. These pains, also described as cramping, can range from mild to severe, last just a few hours or several days, and even lead to a disruption in normal daily activity if the pain becomes too unbearable.
Understanding Menstrual CrampsThe medical term for menstrual cramps is dysmenorrhoea. There are two different types of dysmenorrhoea that women can suffer from. The first type- called primary- is not connected to any other gynaecological problems and usually begins at the same time as the first menses. The second type of dysmenorrhoea- secondary- the pain is made worse by another underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis. This type of menstrual cramping usually begins later in life and produces more severe symptoms.
The Causes of Menstrual CrampsIn order to understand what causes menstrual cramps you must first understand the process of menstruation. Each month the body prepares for the possibility of nourishing a fertilised egg by thickening the lining of the uterus. If an egg is released and does not become fertilised the body must expel that egg and begin the process over again. In order to expel the egg from the body the lining of the uterus is shed and passed through the vagina.
During this process the body releases prostaglandin, chemicals that cause the uterus to contract and push the lining out of the body. Menstrual cramps occur when this contracting process results in abdominal pain. This pain is very similar to the pain caused by birthing contractions since the process is basically the same only much milder.
Menstrual cramp pain can vary in degree from mild to intolerable for two reasons. One, cramping is worse for women who have an unusually high level of prostaglandin in their bloodstream. Second, menstrual cramps can worsen when blood clots or pieces of thick tissue pass from the uterus through the cervix. This is especially true in women who have very small, or narrow, cervical canals.
How to Relieve the Pain and other Symptoms of Menstrual CrampsMost menstrual cramps begin a day or two before the menstrual period starts, or shortly thereafter, and subside within one or two days from onset. During this period some women also notice others symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, mood swings, headache, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Luckily, there are many ways that you can reduce or even eliminate these symptoms and pain.
Getting adequate amounts of rest is an easy way to reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. Relaxing the body and avoiding too much activity can help reduce the pain associated with cramping and aid the body in eliminating the lining of the uterus.
Exercise can also help relieve menstrual cramping. Women who get at least thirty minutes of exercise each day report less episodes of menstrual cramping and other symptoms. All types of exercise can help but walking seems to have the most affect on this condition.
Aside from lifestyle changes, medications can also be used to relive the symptoms of menstrual cramps. Many over-the-counter medications use a combination approach to reduce the severity of pain associated with menstrual cramping while also eliminating other symptoms such as bloating, headache, diarrhoea, and moodiness. The main ingredient in these medications is usually a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that is used to lower the production of prostaglandin thus reducing the effects of this chemical.
If an over-the-counter medication does not relieve the pain of menstrual cramps some doctors will prescribe oral contraceptives to help manage the symptoms. These pills, also called birth control pills, inhibit the release of an egg into the uterus, which reduces the production, and release of prostaglandin.