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One of the many woman-related health problems is dysmenorrhea. Almost all women suffer from dysmenorrhea at one point of their life. Although this is a common problem, it can be related to certain medical complications in some. Let us understand more on this subject in the following paragraphs.

What is Dysmenorrhea?

In medical terms, painful menstruation is called as dysmenorrhea. Cramps are experienced in the stomach and pelvic region during menses. However, one should note that this pain is not similar to the pain experienced during premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Dysmenorrhea usually follows the symptoms of PMS.

The pain during menstruation can be mild or severe. At times, women complain of unusual heaviness in her stomach. In some woman, the pain is so severe that it makes daily activities difficult.

Types of Dysmenorrhea

There are two types of dysmenorrhea, primary and secondary dysmenorrhea.

Primary Dysmenorrhea

The common menstrual pain and cramps experienced by a majority of woman is called as primary dysmenorrhea. These cramps are recurrent and 90% adolescent girls and about 50% woman suffer from it. The pain is experienced in the lower abdomen region, back, pelvic region as well as thighs. Cramps and pain last for about 2 to 3 days during menstruation. This pain usually begins about a year after a girl begins with her monthly cycles. One may also experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhea along with the cramps.

Secondary Dysmenorrhea

Severe pain during menstruation due to some underlying condition causes secondary dysmenorrhea. This pain usually occurs in only some women who are suffering from a medical condition affecting their reproductive health. The pain usually occurs before the menstruation starts and lasts longer than primary dysmenorrhea.

Causes of Dysmenorrhea

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The cause of primary dysmenorrhea is prostaglandin production. This is naturally occurring substance that is made by uterine cells. It helps in contraction of the muscles, thus assisting in shedding of the uterine lining every month. When the production of prostaglandin is high, it leads to excessive pain and camps. The prostaglandin is the main cause of other symptoms associated with primary  Dysmenorrhea, like nausea, vomiting, etc.

The causes of secondary dysmenorrhea are related to diseases or abnormality related to the organs of the reproductive system. These common abnormalities or diseases include:

Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea

The symptoms of  Dysmenorrhea include:

These symptoms are experienced after the menstrual bleeding begins. However, if the pain continues for more than 2 – 3 days and disables the woman from carrying out her regular work, it may be a sign of secondary dysmenorrhea. Also, if this pain begins suddenly after many years of attaining puberty, it can be a sign it is not primary dysmenorrhea.

Diagnosis of Dysmenorrhea

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Unusual menstrual cramps or pain that lasts for more than 3 days requires investigation by a doctor. The doctor will examine your vagina, cervix and uterus for any abnormalities and lumps. If secondary  Dysmenorrhea is suspected, you will be advised further tests. This includes a virginal fluid test, and pelvic ultrasound.

Treatment for Dysmenorrhea

Dysmenorrhea is treatable and there are many methods to help ease the monthly pain. These treatments include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These pain killers help ease the pain and are to be taken for 2 – 3 days once the menstrual bleeding and pain starts.
  • Birth control pills: Many women are advised birth control pills as they help in relieving the symptoms of dysmenorrhea.
  • Dietary Modification: Some are advised changes in diet like decrease in intake of sugar, caffeine and increase in vitamin and mineral intake
  • Heating Pad: Women are advised to place a heating pad or hot water bottle on their abdomen to relieve the pain. It relaxes the muscles increases the blood supply and reduce the discomfort.
  • Surgery: In case of secondary dysmenorrhea, surgery or medical procedures are advised according to the health complication. In case of endometriosis, adenomyosis, or similar conditions endometrial ablation or resection is advised. Hysterectomy that is, removal of uterus, is carried out in case of uterine fibroids.

Dysmenorrhea is very common in adolescents and young women. The pain becomes negligible in most women after childbirth. Get yourself examined by a gynecologist to make get early treatment and relief from this monthly pain and discomfort. Severe cramps require medical attention as any lethargy shown in getting a proper diagnosis can affect your reproductive health in future.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 4, 2015

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