Primary dysmenorrhoea, known more commonly as period pain or menstrual cramps, is an uncomfortable pain in the lower abdominal region and is a common occurrence for women just before or during their period. These monthly spasmodic pains should not be confused with secondary dysmenorrhoea, which is caused by a disorder of the female reproductive organs, such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids, or infection. A way to differentiate menstrual cramps from secondary dysmenorrhoea pain is that the latter begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts much longer.
Primary dysmenorrhoea is not due to disease but happens when the uterus contracts, i.e. when it squeezes and cramps, during menstruation. This contraction is normal and causes the lining of the uterus to shed and leave the body along with period blood through the vagina.
Most people feel a throbbing pain at irregular intervals around their lower belly region. These cramps can start a few days before the arrival of your period and are an indication that your menstrual cycle might be beginning soon. Sometimes, cramps may continue throughout your period but will usually be worse during the first few days when blood flow is at its heaviest. Cramps can begin from the first period and can get progressively more or less painful through the years. Usually, people find them easier to handle as they get older.
Although these cramps can be very irritating, there are ways of preventing them from becoming intolerable. Some at home solutions to relieving pain are:
- Light exercise or yoga
- Placing a heated pad on your belly or lower back
- Massaging with essential oils
- Avoiding certain foods; caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, spicy foods, fatty foods and salty foods
- Studies suggest that Incorporating cinnamon, ginger, dill, fennel and fish oils (omega-3) into your diet can help
- Drinking chamomile tea.
Alternatively, medication can also help to reduce period pain, for example, over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, paracetamol and naproxen. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and naproxen, are recommended for relieving menstrual pain and heavy menstrual bleeding as they help lower the body’s production of prostaglandin, a hormone that stimulates the uterus to contract and is produced in excess during painful menstruation.
As a last resort and provided pregnancy is not desired, hormonal birth control can also help, but shouldn’t be considered as a long-term solution due to possible ill effects. Some artificial hormonal birth control methods are the combined oral contraceptive pill, the contraceptive ring, patch or implant, or having an IUD fitted. Used in moderation, these can also help with period cramps.
In the case that you do start to experience extreme pains and other menstrual complications, please don’t hesitate to contact your gynaecologist for an appointment.
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