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Period Cramps: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

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Menstrual cramps, also known as Dysmenorrhea or period pain, are aching sensations affecting many women or Assigned Females at Birth (AFAB) before and during their menstrual periods. 

The pain ranges from mild to severe, primarily affecting the lower abdomen and lower back, thus limiting your ability to do everyday tasks. 

Period cramps are probably triggered by an excessive amount of Prostaglandins or certain health problems like uterine fibroids and Endometriosis. Cramps are frequently accompanied by other symptoms such as Nausea, tiredness, and Diarrhea. 

Although the symptoms usually subside on their own in some time, medications and other treatments can ease painful periods. 

In this article, we are going to look at the symptoms and causes of period cramps and ways to manage them.

What Causes Period Cramps

Menstrual cramps often start shortly after Ovulation and can be categorized as Primary Dysmenorrhea and Secondary Dysmenorrhea, both having different causes.

Primary Dysmenorrhea is the most prevalent type of period cramp. It often refers to pain brought on by normal menstruation or periods without accompanying any medical condition. Secondary Dysmenorrhea is pain that you may experience during your periods due to certain medical conditions, such as Endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).

Let’s discuss the symptoms of both types of period pain separately.

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  • Cause of Primary Dysmenorrhea

    Experts believe that Primary Dysmenorrhea is caused by Prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that regulate inflammation. Prostaglandins help the uterine muscle to contract and relax, allowing the lining of the uterus to shed and flow out of the body during menstruation. 

    Throughout menstruation, there is an excess secretion of Prostaglandin, causing your uterus to contract with greater force. This, in turn, limits the blood flow and reduces the availability of oxygen to the uterine muscle tissue, resulting in pain.

    Prostaglandin levels increase just before menstruation begins, leading to cramps before periods. Levels drop when you get your period; that’s why cramps typically go away after a few days.

    Cause of Secondary Dysmenorrhea

    woman suffering from pid pain in lower backSource: getty_images
    Woman suffering from PID pain

    You may experience menstrual discomfort because of Secondary Dysmenorrhea due to disorders, such as Endometriosis, Adenomyosis, Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or Uterine growths, affecting your reproductive system.

    Endometriosis: This is a medical condition in which the tissue that lines your uterus (endometrium) develops externally to your uterus. These tissues shed during your period, leading to bloating, scarring, and cramps.

    Adenomyosis: In Adenomyosis, the uterine lining develops into the uterine muscle. This, in turn, causes your uterus to expand far beyond its normal size, causing abnormal bleeding and pain.

    Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): PID is a severe infection of the uterine and pelvic organs caused by bacteria. It usually begins in the uterus and spreads to other reproductive organs, inducing abdominal cramps or pain during sexual intercourse.

    However, besides cramps or pain, PID can lead to other symptoms as well, read pelvic inflammatory disease symptoms.

    Uterine growths: Cysts, tumors, or fibroids in the uterus or uterine lining can cause cramps before or during periods.

    Other risk factors for period cramps include:

    What are the Symptoms of Period Cramps

    Period pain is most prevalent the day before or on the first day of your menstrual cycle. In the majority of instances, the cramping or pain begins 24 to 48 hours before the period begins and ends within 48 hours after your period finishes. 

    A dull, pulsating, cramping pain in the lower abdomen, directly above the pelvic bone, is the most common symptom of Dysmenorrhea. Additional symptoms may include:

    • Pain in the hips, lower back, and inner thighs
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Perspiration
    • Feeling weak and dizzy
    • Diarrhea
    • Bowel movements
    • Bloating
    • Headaches or migraines
    Suggestion:
    Consult your doctor immediately if you experience symptoms of Dysmenorrhea at other times and not during your regular menstrual cycle.

    How to Manage Period Cramps

    Management of pain during the period basically involves treating the underlying condition and includes medications, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.

    Medications

    Medical treatments, including pain relievers like Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and hormonal birth controls, are often employed to minimize period cramps.

    NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen can effectively reduce menstrual cramps by decreasing the levels of Prostaglandin in your body.

    Additionally, your doctor may also prescribe hormonal birth control such as pills, patches, or vaginal rings to prevent ovulation, thereby overcoming the pain you experience during your periods.

    These medications weaken the uterine lining, thereby inhibiting the synthesis of Prostaglandins and reducing cramping and bleeding. However, if you are experiencing cramps due to an underlying health, such as Endometriosis or fibroids, your doctor may consider surgery to get rid of the undesirable tissue.

    Lifestyle Changes

    Woman doing yoga at home in living room Source: interstid
    Woman doing yoga

    The following lifestyle changes can help reduce the pain associated with your period:

    • Reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
    • Engage in regular physical activity
    • Have more rest
    • Avoid intake of foods containing caffeine
    • Consume a diet containing anti-inflammatory foods, such as leafy green vegetables, fruits, and nuts

    However, certain foods should be avoided, as they can make your period symptoms worse. 

    Do you want to know about the foods you should avoid during your period? Read Beat The Cramps: Foods To Avoid During Periods

    Home Remedies

    Mild period pain can be overcome with certain at-home remedies, including:

    Apply a heat pad to the lower abdomen

    • Take a warm bath or shower 
    • Gently massage your lower abdomen
    • Chamomile tea, fennel, ginger, and pine bark are some of the herbal remedies that may also help control Dysmenorrhea symptoms
    Warning:
    Sometimes, period cramps can be accompanied by thicker and larger blood clots that need to be addressed immediately.

    Conclusion

    Period cramps, often known as period pain or Dysmenorrhea, are characterized by the severe pain that many women may experience during their menstruation. Sometimes the pain can be accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, Nausea, and headaches. 

    It can be primary or secondary. Although period cramps are common among women who menstruate, they can sometimes hinder your daily activities. Most of the time, the symptoms usually go on their own, but if they turn bothersome, then they can be managed with medications, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.

    However, it is advisable to consult your doctor if the pain turns severe and persists for a long time.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can Dysmenorrhea be prevented?

    No, you cannot prevent Dysmenorrhea. However, eating a well-balanced diet, reducing stress, and exercising regularly may help to reduce the severity of cramps. 

    What are the foods that help with period cramps?

    Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as nuts and seeds, fish like salmon, yogurt, milk, soy beverages, and plant oils, have been found to relieve period cramps.

    What helps with period cramps?

    A heating pad, massage, a warm water bath, and pain reliever medicines can help reduce the pain associated with your periods.

    Why does it hurt so much with period cramps? 

    Your uterus contracts during your menstrual cycle to aid in removing its lining. This process is triggered by Prostaglandins, which play a role in pain and inflammation. During your menstruation, the level of Prostaglandin is high, due to which you may have more severe menstrual cramps.

    Which beverage can help soothe period pain?

    Carrot and orange juices contain a surplus of Vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium. These nutrients are associated with reducing inflammation. Hence, drinking carrot and orange juices containing these nutrients can help reduce period cramps.

    Citations:
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    Photo of author Janet Fudge
    Janet Fudge is a highly skilled and experienced pharmacologist who serves as a contributing writer for CheapMedicineShop.com. With a strong academic background from a premier US University and a passion for helping others, Janet has become a trusted voice in the pharmaceutical world. After completing her Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Janet embarked on a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, working with various clients, including hospitals, retail pharmacies, and drug manufacturers. Her in-depth knowledge of pharmacology and dedication to patient-centered care has led her to excel in her field. As a writer for CheapMedicineShop.com, Janet uses her wealth of expertise to provide readers with accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information on various topics related to medicine and healthcare. Her engaging writing style and ability to break down complex topics into easily digestible content make her a valuable resource for healthcare professionals and the general public.
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