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Just about every woman suffers from some form of dysmenorrhea, another name for pain that happens before and during your monthly period. The main difference is the severity of the pain. There are two kind of menstrual pain: primary and secondary.
- Primary menstrual pain is the type that is most common. It’s the discomfort that accompanies menstruation. Primary dysmenorrhea usually begins a day or two before you actually start bleeding. You may have mild cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea during periods. Pain emanates in your lower back, abdomen and possibly down your thighs. It usually lasts from 12 to 72 hours and lessens as you age. Having a baby could also end your monthly painful dysmenorrhea.
- Secondary menstrual pain is caused by some other disorder. It lasts much longer than the usual cycle and isn’t typically associated with vomiting, diarrhea or nausea. Some of the conditions that lead to secondary dysmenorrhea might be endometriosis, uterine fibroids or adenomyosis. Cramps before periods that start three to four days before your period begins and last for more than a week after you stop may indicate secondary dysmenorrhea. That’s a typical symptom of secondary pain.
Both primary and secondary dysmenorrhea comes with significant symptoms. For example, you may have:
- Abdominal pain that can at times be severe
- Pain that courses throughout your lower body
- Pressure on your abdomen
- Constipation or diarrhea
Dysmenorrhea should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan as it may be a symptom or sign of a serious illness or condition.
Again, many women experience some level of cramps during their periods. You’re at a higher level of risk, however, if you:
- Have a family history of dysmenorrhea
- Smoke cigarettes
- Are under the age of 30
- Start puberty before the age of 11
- Bleed heavily during your period
- Have irregular periods
- Have never had a baby
Your uterus contracts during your monthly cycle. If it contracts too hard, it cuts off the blood supply to the muscles that surround it. It’s this process that causes you pain. Painful periods can disrupt your life and cause you to miss work, school or sporting events. Menstrual cramps prevent you from doing other normal activities.
Mild menstrual cramps are normal during the time that your uterus is contracting and dispelling the blood and unfertilized eggs during ovulation. Painful periods usually are lightest in the first one to three years of when you start menstruating and tend to get much stronger as you get older.
The cramps you feel during your period are caused by the release of prostaglandin, a hormonal chemical that appears in your body when bleeding starts. Blood clots are stimulated by prostaglandin and cause blood vessel contractions that push the clots out and allow the blood vessels to relax. When levels of prostaglandin are too high, it can lead to lightheadedness and nausea.
How to Stop Period Cramps
You can take steps to relieve mild menstrual cramps with some over-the-counter remedies and lifestyle changes, such as:
- Put a hot water bottle or heating pad over your lower abdomen while lying down.
- When the cramps first appear, take ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs) you can get at the drugstore.
- Massage your abdomen and lower back lightly or get a professional to give you a light massage.
- Stay away from food and drinks that contain caffeine.
- Rest as you need it.
- Stop smoking.
- Don‘t drink alcohol during your period.
- Exercise regularly.
- Talk to your OBGYN doctor about certain oral contraceptives that are known to reduce cramps.
When natural treatments and over-the-counter NSAIDs don’t work to relieve your suffering, you may have to undergo surgery. Usually that surgery is tied to a secondary cause of your cramps, however, such as removing fibroids. Removing your uterus is an extreme measure that may be viable if you don’t plan on getting pregnant. Dysmenorrhea should be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan as it may be a symptom or sign of a serious illness or condition.
If your doctor can’t find any infection or growths after doing a pelvic exam, the next step may be other tests to find the cause of the cramping that comes before your period and continues throughout your cycle. Potential tests include:
- A minimally invasive procedure called a laparoscopy, during which your doctor looks for ovarian cysts, adhesions or an ectopic pregnancy through a thin tube inserted into your vagina when you’re not menstruating.
- An ultrasound, similar to the test done when you’re pregnant and want to see the fetus. This ultrasound gives your OBGYN specialist an image of your uterus that may provide clues or show abnormalities.
- Other imaging tests also are available to find the cause of your dysmenorrhea, such as an MRI or CT scan.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
Since dysmenorrhea is so common, many women don’t talk to their doctors about their cramps. But you don’t have to suffer needlessly when treatment is available to lessen your monthly struggles. Dysmenorrhea should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
You may have primary or secondary dysmenorrhea if your strong cramps last longer than two or three days. A pelvic exam can help your doctor rule out some secondary causes of your pain. During the exam, your gynecologist feels for lumps or other abnormalities in your vagina, cervix and uterus. Other tests may be required to rule out all secondary causes.
Cramps after periods are uncommon and should be investigated. Through a physical exam and tests, your doctor may find the cause of cramps after your period. Common causes include:
- A hormone imbalance
- Birth control that causes bleeding for a few days after your periods
- An incapacity of your uterus to expel all the blood each month
- Diseases such as cancer or thyroid problems
- An implantation from a fertility treatment worked and you may be pregnant
When Cramps May Be Life-Threatening
Call 911 if you use tampons during your period and, in addition to your cramps, you:
- Develop a rash that mimics a sunburn
- Have a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- Get diarrhea and vomiting
- Feel dizzy, as if you might faint
- Actually faint
You could be experiencing toxic shock syndrome, which can be life-threatening.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide Gynecology guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult obgyn specialist doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist or Gynecology specialist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions about Menstrual Cramps or Dysmenorrhea? Would like to schedule an appointment with the best OBGYN in Midtown NYC, Dr. Pedram Bral, please contact our office.
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Midtown OB/GYN)
New York, NY 10010
☎ (212) 533-4575
Dr. Pedram Bral, Gynecologist (Gynecologist NYC, Upper East Side OB/GYN)
New York, NY 10028
☎ (212) 533-4575