Menstrual Cramps

January 27, 2023

Menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, are usually a common experience for females just before they start their periods and during.  For some, the cramps they experience are just a common annoyance, and for others, they can be so painful that they interfere with daily activities such as work or school.  Which one can you relate to?

The pain that females go through just before their period and during can last 12 to 72 hours. Many also experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and diarrhea.  Menstrual cramps may become less painful as the woman ages or after having a baby.

Dysmenorrhea – Primary & Secondary

Dysmenorrhea is the actual medical term for pain with your period (menstruation).  There are two types of dysmenorrhea – primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea is when common menstrual cramps are recurrent and aren’t associated with other diseases or health conditions.  The pain isn’t considered to be abnormal and can be anywhere from mild to severe pain in the lower abdomen, lower back, hips, or thighs.  

Secondary dysmenorrhea is associated with a health condition/disorder or an infection within your female reproductive organs.  The pain from secondary dysmenorrhea will usually start early in the menstrual cycle and last longer than the average menstrual cramps.  The likelihood that you will experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue, or diarrhea is low.

What Causes Painful Menstrual Cramps?

A chemical called prostaglandin will cause the uterus to contract which then feels like cramping.  The uterus will contract throughout your menstrual cycle.  When you are menstruating the uterus contracts more intensely.  When you feel pain or intense cramping that is due to the fact that the muscle tissue briefly loses its supply of oxygen. This occurs when the uterus contractions are at their strongest and they can press against nearby blood vessels, cutting off that supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue.

What Causes Secondary Dysmenorrhea?

Menstrual cramps or menstrual pain from secondary dysmenorrhea is related to problems with the reproductive organs. Those conditions that cause cramping:

  • Endometriosis
  • Adenomyosis
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
  • Cervical Stenosis
  • Fibroids

When To See Your Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing severe or unusual menstrual cramps or if your cramps last for more than two or three days.  Primary and secondary menstrual cramps are treatable. 

Make sure to document your menstrual cycle (the date it starts and ends).  Along with documenting the duration and severity of your menstrual cramps.  More than likely your healthcare provider will recommend or perform a pelvic exam.

If it is believed that you are dealing with secondary dysmenorrhea, there may be additional tests needed.

It is also important to note that If you use tampons and develop the following symptoms, get medical help right away.

  • Fever – over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • A rash that looks like a sunburn.

These are all symptoms of toxic shock syndrome.  Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening illness and medical attention will be needed immediately if you experience those symptoms.

Management Or Treatment Options To Relieve Mild Menstrual Cramps

  • Ibuprofen will offer some relief.  It can be taken as soon as bleeding or cramping starts. If you are unable to take ibuprofen/NSAIDs, you can take another pain reliever like acetaminophen.
  • Placing a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower back or abdomen.
  • Rest when you need to.
  • Try to avoid caffeine.
  • It is best to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Massaging your lower back and abdomen can be helpful.

Generally, women that exercise regularly see a decrease in menstrual cramps.  You can also try alternative therapies such as acupuncture or acupressure.  It is always important to discuss any health issues you experience with your healthcare provider. 

Here at OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch, we are here to help with your reproductive health-related questions.