No woman enjoys getting her monthly period. Uncomfortable period symptoms, like menstrual cramps, bloating, headaches, and fatigue, can cause you to feel miserable. However, if you are experiencing extreme cramping during your menstrual period, you may be suffering from dysmenorrhea. Dysmenorrhea can cause severe pain, making life very uncomfortable. Dysmenorrhea can also signal underlying reproductive complications. However, dysmenorrhea is treatable. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may find relief through over-the-counter medication or botanical supplements.
What is Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is the name given to painful menstrual periods. A fairly common condition, dysmenorrhea can result in severe cramping, nausea, and other menstrual symptoms. There are two main types of dysmenorrhea:
- Primary Dysmenorrhea: Primary dysmenorrhea tends to occur in younger women, a few years after menarche and before a regular pattern of ovulation has developed.
- Secondary Dysmenorrhea: Secondary dysmenorrhea occurs years after menarche, and interrupts a seemingly regular pattern of ovulation.
Who Gets Dysmenorrhea?
Menstrual pain is not uncommon at all - more than 40% of American women report some type of pain during their monthly periods - however, for some women this menstrual pain is much more intense. In fact, 10% of women report that their menstrual pain has left them incapacitated for a day or more. Though any woman can develop dysmenorrhea, some women are more at risk of experiencing these painful periods. Risk factors include:
- cigarette smoking
- high stress levels
- family history of dysmenorrhea
- history of pelvic infection
- history of STD infection
What Causes Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea can be the result of various different factors. Causes depend upon the type of dysmenorrhea you are suffering from.
Primary dysmenorrhea appears to be caused by an excess of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormones that cause your muscles to contract. During menstruation, prostaglandins trigger your uterus to contract, helping you to shed your menstrual blood. Some women seem to have an excess of these prostaglandins in their uterus, though. As a result, they experience very painful periods.
It tends to be much more difficult to find the cause of secondary dysmenorrhea. Secondary dysmenorrhea is usually a side effect produced by some other reproductive complication. Common causes of secondary dysmenorrhea include:
Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea
Dysmenorrhea symptoms do vary from woman to woman. However, all women with dysmenorrhea suffer from painful cramps, beginning with the start of menstruation and lasting anywhere from several hours to two or more days. Other common symptoms of dysmenorrhea include:
- sharp pains in the lower abdomen
- pain radiating from the abdomen down to the thighs and legs
If you are suffering from severe pain with your monthly periods, it is important to see your health care provider. Your health care provider can perform a series of tests to see if you are suffering from dysmenorrhea, and to determine the cause of the condition. Your health care provider will begin by asking you about your medical history and about the symptoms that you have been experiencing. You will likely be given a pelvic exam, during which your health care provider will check the size and shape of your uterus and ovaries. Further tests that may be performed include:
- blood tests
- urine anaylsis
- pelvic ultrasound
Treatment for Dysmenorrhea
Treatment options will depend upon the type of dysmenorrhea that you are suffering from.
- Primary Dysmenorrhea: Primary dysmenorrhea is typically treated with prescription or over-the-counter medications. First-line treatment for painful periods typically involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, referred to as NSAIDS. Commonly used NSAIDS include ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen. Anti-prostaglandins are also used to treat primary dysmenorrhea. Anti-prostaglandins block the effects that prostaglandins have on your body, preventing severe cramps. These medications work effectively in 80% of dysmenorrhea sufferers.
- Secondary Dysmenorrhea: Treatment for secondary dysmenorrhea depends upon the underlying cause of the condition. Your health care provider will discuss appropriate treatments with you.
Chat with other women about period complications like dysmenorrhea in our menstruation forum.