What is Dysmenorrhea?
Find out what Dysmenorrhea is and what you can do to relieve symptoms from the experts at WUKA. Find out more about Dysmenorrhea and treatments here.
What is dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for period pain - the cramps you experience usually at the start of your period, and sometimes in the day or so leading up to menstruation. It affects up to 90% of women, and can vary in intensity.
Some women will experience only mild dysmenorrhea, and symptoms will gradually ease without the need for any treatment. Others, however, will experience more severe pain that sometimes requires medication or other treatments.
Who can get dysmenorrhea?
As Dysmenorrhea affects up to 90% of menstruating women, its safe to say that it can affect anyone who has a period. There’s really no way of knowing for sure who will definitely experience period pain; its helps to understand what causes it, and what can cause the pain to intensify.
What causes Dysmenorrhea?
There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. Each type has a different cause, discussed below.
Most people will experience primary dysmenorrhea, to varying degrees, at some point during their cycle. Primary dysmenorrhea refers to period pain that occurs as a natural part of the menstrual cycle.
According to the NHS, period pains are caused by contractions in the uterus, which are usually so mild that you don’t really feel them. These contractions occur to help the uterus shed its lining, which is part of what your period is made up of.
As the uterus contracts, the blood vessels lining the uterus are compressed, and this cuts off the blood supply temporarily. The tissues in the uterus then release chemicals which trigger a pain response in the body.
At the same time, the body produces chemicals called prostaglandins, which then trigger the uterus to contract even more, further helping the body to shed the uterus lining. So if you’ve noticed that your period pain is usually a lot more intense during the most heavy days of your period, this is why. Its a completely normal- but painful- part of the menstrual cycle.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is less common, and usually caused by a medical condition:
- Endometriosis- a condition where cells usually found in the uterus grow in other places such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries. Each month these cells act as though they’re in the uterus: they break down and bleed, like a period. Unlike the cells in the uterus though, the blood has no means of escape, so cannot flow through the vagina as your period normally does. This can lead to pain and, in some cases, scarring.
- Uterine fibroids- non-cancerous growths which are found in and around the uterus. For most women, fibroids don’t cause any symptoms at all, but in a few cases they can cause heavy and painful periods.
- Pelvic Inflammatory disease (PID)- a condition which results from an untreated STI. With PID, infections spreads from the vagina and cervix to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. This can cause very heavy and painful periods.
- Adenomyosis - a condition where the tissue that normally lines the uterus begins to grow within the muscles that line the uterus instead. This condition can cause very painful periods.
Secondary dysmenorrhea can also be caused by some types of contraception, such as the IUD.
Women who experience secondary dysmenorrhea find that the pain is a lot more intense than usual, and it lasts a lot longer too. Speak to your GP if you suspect you may have a condition that is causing painful periods.
What does Dysmenorrhea feel like?
Dysmenorrhea feels like muscle cramps in the abdomen and sometimes in the lower back and thighs. It can be felt in spasms, or waves of pain. Some women also experience dull, constant pain too.
Period pain shouldn’t interfere too much with your everyday activities, or be so intense that you cannot still do the things that you enjoy. If you experience pain that is very severe, speak to your GP about this, so that you can rule out any potential cause for the pain.
Is it normal to have Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is totally normal, and most of us will experience it at some point in our lives. Each month, our uterus prepares for a pregnancy by thickening the uterus lining, and by developing and egg ready for fertilisation.
If no pregnancy occurs, once the egg has travelled down the fallopian tube during ovulation it’s then reabsorbed into the body. Then, as the uterus lining begins to break down, the egg is shed as part of your period. This needs to happen each month, so that the old cells and tissues can be released and the cycle can begin again.
As already discussed, the contractions you feel in the uterus are essential for helping the old tissues and unfertilised egg to be released. So while period pain can be uncomfortable and make life a little miserable for a while, its completely normal to experience these cramps. They’re helping your body to get ready for the next potential pregnancy.
When to see a doctor
Some women do experience more intense period pain that might need to be investigated. If your dysmenorrhea is accompanied by irregular periods, bleeding in between periods, a change in vaginal discharge (if it becomes thick and foul smelling) or you experience pain during sex- this could indicate a medical condition that might require treatment.
Don’t put it off. Period pain should not be crippling, so if you suspect there might be an underlying reason for it, make an appointment to discuss your symptoms.If your period is heavy, we recommend our heavy flow period pants to absorb your flow with 100% ;leak-proof confidence.
Period pain relief
Most period pain can be treated easily at home with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Heat can also help- run a warm bath or hold a hot water bottle to your tummy or back. You might also find that gentle exercise helps - it can be amazing to get the endorphins flowing during a workout.
There are also some natural remedies you can try too, such as chamomile, evening primrose oil, fennel and cinnamon.
We also recommend trying yoga for period pain. Some positions are naturally restorative and help to ease muscle cramps that can intensify pain. Our period leggings are perfect for absorbing your flow and gently supporting your body while you workout, and are great for yoga too.
Alongside pain relief and natural remedies, its important to remember that self care really can help to ease dysmenorrhea. Take the time to look after yourself, especially during your period. Get plenty of sleep, and try to eliminate stress as much as you can. And it goes without saying that maintaining a healthy, balanced diet with a limit on salty, sugary processed foods is a must. Prioritise your health as much as you can.
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Is it normal to have dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is totally normal and affects up to 90% of those who have periods. For most, the pain will be easily manageable, but if you do find that its affecting your normal everyday activities, speak to you GP to try to get to the bottom of why that might be the case.
What is the main cause of dysmenorrhea?
The main cause of dysmenorrhea is uterine contractions that are essential to clear out the old lining of the uterus once a pregnancy has not occurred. These contractions help the body to shed the uterus lining, along with the unfertilised egg, ready for the cycle to begin again.
Secondary dysmenorrhea refers to period pain that occurs due to a medical condition, such as endometriosis, PCOS, PID or uterine fibroids.
What does dysmenorrhea feel like?
Dysmenorrhea is usually felt as muscle spasms in the abdomen, lower back and upper thighs. It can come in waves, or it can be felt as a dull, throbbing or aching pain. If you experience sharp, intense pains that prevent you from carrying out your normal activities, speak to your doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be to blame.