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Are Menstrual Cramps Cramping Your Style?

Most women will experience some level of discomfort associated with their monthly menstrual cycle. For some women the discomfort will be mild, while for others the distress can undermine their ability to go about their daily life for a day, or two or perhaps more. The medical term for menstrual cramps is dysmenorrhea. There are two kind of dysmenorrheal – primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrheal refers to cramping that does not involve any underlying gynecological problem. Primary dysmenorrhea is associated with the onset of ovulation and since many young girls will begin to menstruate prior to beginning to ovulate, often these cramps will not set in until months after menstruation has begun.

Are Menstrual Cramps Cramping Your Style?Secondary dysmenorrhea means that some underlying abnormal condition (most often involving the reproductive system) is contributing to a woman’s menstrual pain. More often than not, these conditions do not occur at the onset of menarche, but manifest later.

Each month, the inner lining of the uterus builds up to prepare for a potential pregnancy. When the egg is not fertilized during ovulation, there is no pregnancy and this built up lining in the uterus is no longer needed. A woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels decline and eventually the lining of the uterus is shed in the menstrual flow, to be replaced by a new lining in the next monthly cycle.

When the lining of the uterus begins to break down, prostaglandins are released. These are compounds that cause the uterine muscles to contract, constricting blood supply to the tissue of the endometrium (lining the uterus). This causes the tissue to die and the contractions squeeze the old tissue out through the cervix and vagina and out of the body. In addition to the prostaglandins, substances called leukotrienes, which are chemicals that are related to the body’s inflammatory response are elevated, and it may be that elevated levels of prostaglandin and leukotrienes in a woman’s body play a key role in the severity of cramping she may experience.

How to Find Relief

If you are experiencing cramps during your menstrual cycle that have increased in their level of discomfort the first thing you should do is talk with your AOA healthcare provider so that we can determine if there are any underlying conditions that should be addressed.

If there are no abnormalities, there are some steps you can take to find relief. First and foremost, be sure that you are getting adequate rest, sleep AND exercise. Walking is particularly beneficial. The application of warmth in the form of a hot water bottle or heating pad to the abdomen can also help. Additionally, there is an array of nonprescription pain relievers available that may help control mild menstrual pain, including aspirin and various kinds of acetaminophen. It should be noted that these medications have a limited effect in curbing the production of prostaglandin, so they may not do the job if your cramping is severe.

If you have stronger cramping, some nonsteroidal anti-imiflammatory drugs such as Advil, Midol, Motrin and Aleve do lower the production of prostaglandin and can provide some relief. If you regularly have more painful cramping, you may want to start taking one of these medications a day or two before your period is scheduled to begin, just to get a running jump on the pain.

If the cramps you are experiencing are severe and debilitating, there are medical procedures that can provide temporary relief, including a dilation and curettage procedure to remove some of the lining of the uterus. This procedure is primarily used as a diagnostic measure to detect cancer or precancerous conditions.

A more common solution these days to severe menstrual cramping is a procedure called an endometrial ablation. If you are absolutely sure that you never want to have children, or if you’ve already given birth to your family and you want to stop your heavy periods and cramping, you can talk with your AOA physician about an endometrial ablation procedure. It is a simple, one-time, five-minute procedure that does not use hormones and does not require a hysterectomy. It can be done in our AOA offices and most women report little or no pain and resume normal activities within a day or two.

Talk with your AOA doctor if you’re experiencing painful periods that are cramping your style. We can help you find the right solution to reduce your pain and get you back into the swing of things.

Learn more about how to deal with painful menstrual cramps: