When it comes to menstruation, I find it very hard to believe the different ‘explanations’ I’ve heard especially from the guys. Someone once told me that menstruation is the body’s way of getting rid of “bad blood” and the pain is because the “egg” that is released would have to “burst”. I just couldn’t laugh. Like seriously!
Dysmenorrhea is simply the medical term used for “painful periods.” And before I go on to explain why a period might be painful, I’d first need to tell you what a period is. For the sake of clarity, a period is the time of the month when women within the reproductive age group experience an outflow of blood from the vagina. It is a completely physiological process. In other words, it is very normal and without it, I doubt any one of us would be alive today. Periods are painful for some people and are not for some others. Infact, even the degree of pain differs from one woman to another. The pain of periods can be seriously uncomfortable and sometimes can ever hinder a lady from carrying out her usual daily activities.
WHY ARE PERIODS SO PAINFUL?
For ovulation (that is the release of ovum or egg from the ovaries of a woman in preparation for fertilisation) to occur, some very special messengers in the body called ‘hormones’ must be released. These hormones are responsible for the preparation of the wall of the uterus (known as ‘endometrium’) for a potential pregnancy as well as other adaptive changes in the woman’s body.
Oestrogen and Progesterone are the two main hormones involved in these processes. In the case where there is no fertilisation of the egg, the egg degenerates giving rise to the shedding of the already prepared endometrium. This is what is seen as bleeding. It is said that during the shedding of the endometrium, some inflammatory mediators such as prostaglandins are released leading to multiple uterine contractions. During these contractions, there is a temporary loss of blood supply to the endometrial cells leading to tissue ischaemia (that is a condition resulting from the shortage of oxygen and glucose that are needed to keep cells alive). The contractions as well as the tissue ischaemia causes the pain that is felt commonly in the lower abdominal region.
Symptoms that often occur alongside menstrual pain include;
nausea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, hypersensitivity to sound, light and touch, fainting, fatigue.
SHOULD YOU SEE A DOCTOR?
Dysmenorrhea can be classified as either primary or secondary based on its association with an underlying cause. Secondary dysmenorrhea is the kind that occurs as a result of an underlying condition and in this case, you may need to see a doctor. Conditions that are common causes vary with age. In adolescents, it’s usually endometriosis while for older women it could be lieomyoma (fibroids), adenomyosis, ovarian cysts or pelvic congestion. The point is that you may not need to see a doctor except your menstrual cramps significantly disrupt your life every month, the symptoms have progressively worsened or you are older than 25 and just recently started experiencing severe menstrual cramps.
HOW TO MANAGE DYSMENORRHEA?
First it is important to know that menstrual cramps that are not associated with any underlying cause usually reduce with age and giving birth. MENSTRUAL CRAMPS DO NOT LESSEN WITH SEXUAL EXPOSURE! This is a myth. Scientifically, there has been no evidence that relates sexual activity to reduced severity of menstrual pain. However these are some of the common proven remedies;
•HOT WATER BOTTLE AND TOWELS: There are custom made bottles in which warm water can be put and placed on the lower abdomen. Also, taking a warm bath or placing a warm towel on the lower abdomen has been said to be therapeutic.
•EXERCISE: It is said that dysmenorrhea is less common amongst women who exercise regularly. Exercise increases blood circulation and this is effective in reducing cramps. It is not wise to do strenuous or vigorous forms of exercise during your period. Rather, you could engage in exercises of low impact like walking and swimming. Mostly anything that would rock the hips gently. Yoga could also be helpful.
•HEALTHY EATING: It is also said that eating foods high in sugar may worsen cramps. While this is not yet scientifically proven, making positive dietary changes including reducing sugar intake can help ease cramps. Also cut down on your consumption of alcohol, caffeine around your period time and focus insread on eating healthy foods like vegetables, whole grain as they contain essential vitamins and minerals that help to replenish lost blood.
•USE OF NSAIDS : You may want to stay away from this one if you are a known peptic ulcer patient. Even if you’re not, ensure you eat before taking any NSAID and do so strictly according to your doctor’s prescription. Examples of NSAIDS include aspirin, ibuprofen, diclofenac etc. Also common analgesics like paracetamol can also be used.
•HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL: Oral contraceptives are also effective for hormone control. This works by causing temporary cessation of periods for the time desired. You should see your doctor before taking this measure.
Even though periods can be painful and very uncomfortable, it’s like a monthly package delivery from your body saying “You have all it takes to be a mother, I’m ready when you are.” Try as much as possible to appreciate this period of time as a woman. And for the men reading this by chance, this is the perfect time to be extra caring and sensitive. It would definitely go a long way.
Till next time, have a splendid rest-of-the-week and remember to stay healthy!
PS: The comment box is open for all your questions and you can also send them to me privately through email to firstname.lastname@example.org.