Having your monthly period has its various inconveniences and side effects--sudden changes in temperament, a noticeable increase in appetite, the frequent hankering for sweets, and the constant need to be mindful of stains are some of the most common of these. Many women also experience stomach cramps during their period, and while such discomfort may come in varying degrees, the most disabling form of stomach cramps would be the medical ailment known as dysmenorrhea.
While not all women may experience this condition, there are those who are burdened with it on a monthly basis, causing them to miss work or school and stay confined at home because of its serious effects. There is thus a paramount need to understand this condition and find out how to prevent it or, at the very least, reduce the amount of distress and irritation it brings. FN gives you the low-down on five important facts every woman needs to know about this condition.
1. WHAT IS DYSMENORRHEA?
Dr. Mike V. Valerio defines dysmenorrhea as “a pain or discomfort that many women experience at the onset of and during their menstrual period.” The intolerable pain caused by dysmenorrhea is primarily felt in the lower abdomen, although it may possibly extend to a woman’s back, hips, and thighs. Not only does it bring about a number of adverse physical effects, but it is also emotionally and psychologically taxing for those who experience it during their period. The discomfort that comes with this condition likewise varies in accordance with a woman’s pain threshold--her capacity to tolerate physical pain.
2. WHAT CAUSES DYSMENORRHEA?
There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. The former pertains to menstrual cramps which are not associated with or caused by the presence of pelvic diseases, while the latter type is caused by a condition known as endometriosis, which takes place when the tissue that lines the inside of a woman’s uterus (the endometrium) starts growing in other areas outside the fallopian tube and the uterus itself.
[Click here to learn about 5 things every woman should know about endometriosis]
Dr. Valerio explains that the endometrium thickens every month in order to prepare the uterus for receiving a fertilized egg. The absence of a fertilized egg, however, results in what Dr. Valerio calls a “slough,” or the shedding of the endometrial lining in the form of one’s monthly menstrual period. However, when the tissue of the endometrium starts forming on the outer parts of the uterus, this causes painful contractions in the uterine and pelvic area, and thus brings about secondary dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, is believed to be caused by strong contractions of the uterus and the excessive production of prostaglandin hormones in the body. Heavy blood flow during a woman’s menstrual period may also contribute to the onset of dysmenorrhea.
3. WHO ARE THE MOST SUSCEPTIBLE TO DYSMENORRHEA?
Many post-pubescent females experience dysmenorrhea within the first few years from their menarche, or their first menstrual bleeding. The prevalence of primary dysmenorrhea is often found in teenagers and women in their 20s, but fortunately, its occurrence declines as women age and after they bear children. Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, is less common and occurs more frequently in older women, such as those in their 30s and early 40s.
According to Dr. Valerio, women who eat a lot of salty food are more susceptible to dysmenorrhea. He explains that the excessive intake of salt into the body causes the retention of fluids, which in turn may be a potential cause for bloating and severe menstrual cramps. Lack of exercise may likewise contribute to aggravating this ailment.
4. WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DYSMENORRHEA?
The most common symptom of dysmenorrhea is a dull, cramping pain in the lower abdomen. Other symptoms include pain in the legs, hips and back, as well as nausea and, in extremely severe cases, diarrhea and vomiting.
Dr. Valerio points out that the signs of dysmenorrhea, as opposed to its symptoms, are the apparent or pre-morbid manifestations of the condition. These signs include the bloating of the body, fatigue, and mood swings.
5. HOW IS DYSMENORRHEA TREATED AND PREVENTED?
Primary dysmenorrhea is alleviated by standard non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, which is why most women choose to resort to simple self-medication when they menstrual cramps. Low-dose oral contraceptives may also serve as a second line of defense against this condition.
On the other hand, secondary dysmenorrhea brought about by endometriosis can only be addressed through appropriate medical treatment and possibly even surgery.
In order to prevent dysmenorrhea, Dr. Valerio advises his female patients to exercise regularly, especially a week before their period. “When you exercise, you develop an easier production of endorphins. Endorphins—also known ‘happy hormones’—work as a natural anaesthetic, so if you have more endorphins in your system, the less pain you will experience,” he explains. “Exercise also causes you to sweat, and this helps decrease fluid retention.”
He likewise recommends women to stay away from salty foods and to seek alternative remedies such as acupuncture, which serves as an effective treatment to stimulate blood flow and mitigate the effects of dysmenorrhea.
For more tips of diseases and disorders that affect women, check out these FN articles:
- 5 Things Every Woman Needs to Know about Endometriosis
- What Every Woman Should Know about Ovarian Cancer
- What Every Woman Should Know about Breast Cancer
- Hot GirlTalk Topic: What Every Woman Should Know about Cervical Cancer
(Photo by rbmay via Flickr Creative Commons; photo used for illustrative purposes only)