Menstrual cramps also known as “dysmenorrhea” or period pains are painful sensations felt in the lower abdomen that can occur both before and during a woman’s menstrual period. The pain ranges from dull and annoying to severe and extreme. Menstrual cramps tend to begin after an egg is released from the ovaries and travels down the Fallopian tube. There are two primary types of these difficult or painful periods which are primary and secondary dysmenorrhea:-
- Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common type and is characterized by pain in the lower abdomen and lower back pain beginning 1 or 2 days before the period and lasting from 2 to 4 days. There is no underlying problem that is causing the pain.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea is characterized by cramping pains that are due to an identifiable medical problem such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids and many more.
Who gets menstrual cramps?
About half of women experience menstrual cramps, and about 15% describe the pain as severe. It has been shown that women who do not exercise experience more painful menstrual cramps. Certain psychological factors such as emotional stress may also increase the likelihood of having uncomfortable menstrual cramps. Additional risk factors for these cramps include:-
- Being younger than 20 years of age.
- Starting puberty at age 11 or younger.
- Menorrhagia which is heavy bleeding during periods.
- Never having delivered a baby.
What causes menstrual cramps?
During each menstrual period, if there is no sperm to fertilize the egg, the uterus contracts to expel its lining. This process is driven by the release of hormone like substances called prostaglandins, which are associated with pain and inflammation in higher levels. These uterine contractions cause much of the pain felt during menstrual cramps because the contractions inhibit blood flow to the lining of the uterus. In addition, substances known as leukotrienes are also elevated during menstruation, and they may be a cause of menstrual cramps.
How can menstrual cramps be prevented?
We may be able to prevent menstrual cramps. Recommended preventive measures include:-
- Eating fruits and vegetables and limiting intake of fat, alcohol, caffeine, salt, and sweets.
- Exercising regularly.
- Reducing stress.
- Quit smoking.
- Yoga or relaxation therapy.
- Acupuncture or acupressure.