What is period pain?
Every month, a female body with a functioning reproductive system releases an egg from the ovary that plants itself in the uterus. When no fertilization occurs, the egg is released from the body along with the uterine line, which is shed in the form of bleeding. This is what we call periods or menstruation.
During or even just before periods, many females experience cramps in the lower abdominal region of their body. This is termed cramps or period pain.
What usually causes the pain?
Contractions in the uterine muscles need to occur in order for the lining to be expelled along with the egg. These contractions are triggered by a hormone-like group of lipids called prostaglandins, which cause inflammation and pain during the contractions. This is why you experience cramps.
How to understand if your cramps are normal?
More than half the female population that bleed suffers from cramps ranging from normal to severe. Often, it’s natural to experience a certain level of cramps that can be painful but does not disrupt your daily activities.
Also, normal cramps can be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and other cramp relief methods. The cramps are usually seen to last for a day or two, diminishing in severity the third day on, and ultimately disappearing as your period nears its end.
How do you identify if your period pain is beyond normal?
Even though cramps are normal, sometimes they get extremely severe. This is termed dysmenorrhea and it can have a serious impact on the quality of your life. So, how do you understand if your pain is beyond the normal threshold?
- Your daily life is interrupted - Even though cramps can be painful, they shouldn’t be preventing you from getting out of your bed and going on about your daily life for a few days every month. If you repeatedly find yourself calling in sick from work or putting off plans due to your period pain, understand that it’s beyond normal, even if it isn’t rare.
- OTC pain medication does not provide relief - Usually, most cramps can be cured with over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. However, if you see that you have no relief or find yourself reaching for more pills than written on the label (which is extremely dangerous and should never be done), your pain is not normal.
- You get pelvic pain randomly - Pelvic pain is normal when it happens just before or during your periods. But, if you experience it randomly throughout your cycle, it may be indicative of an underlying condition you would want to get checked.
- Your cramps persist for more than two or three days - It is perfectly okay for period pain to last for as long as your period does, but at a steadily diminishing rate. If you experience severe cramping throughout or even after your period has ended, understand that it is not normal.
- You feel your cramps are not normal - It doesn’t make it 100% true that your cramps are indeed not normal, but if you feel that something is amiss, you should definitely speak to a doctor and rule out any abnormality.
There are other symptoms - Often, if your cramps are excruciating and too hard to bear, they come with other symptoms like nausea, infertility, heavy bleeding, irregular periods, pain during sex, random pelvic pain and spotting throughout your cycle. If you notice any of these symptoms, immediately consult a health expert.
What are the probable causes of severe period pain?
Dysmenorrhea may occur due to many conditions that range from:
- Endometriosis - In endometriosis, tissues resembling endometrium (uterine lining) occurs in a number of areas like the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, pelvic floor and sometimes even the bowel, diaphragm, lungs, liver or brain. When they are shed, there is no exit from the body and severe pain is experienced.
- Adenomyosis - The uterus thickens in adenomyosis as the tissues grow into the uterine muscles as well. Thus, apart from a thickened uterus, you experience severe menstrual cramps along with heavy bleeding.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - Due to the presence of multiple cysts in the ovary, PCOS is a disease that disrupts several avenues of your life. Along with irregular periods and facial and body hair growth, severe cramps are another symptom of the condition.
- Fibroids - Fibroids are non-cancerous uterine growths that are usually devoid of symptoms. But, often the uterus has to produce extra contractions to get rid of the heavy blood clots, causing more bleeding and severe cramps.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - When STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoeic advance, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is a bacterial infection in the reproductive system. The most common symptom of the disease is extreme pelvic pain.
- Intrauterine device (IUD) - An intrauterine device (IUD) is a method of contraception where a copper device is planted into the uterus. Sometimes, some people experience worsened cramps due to it, and other reasons like the device perforating the uterus during planting, the introduction of bacteria causing PID or a shift in the location of the device can all cause severe cramping.
- Cervical stenosis - In cervical stenosis, a person suffers from a very narrow or closed cervix entry, causing extremely light or irregular periods. This condition can be born with or developed at a later stage and can also lead to severe cramping and infertility.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) - PMDD is an extension of PMS symptoms that appear in more severity. Debilitating cramps is one such symptom.
Structural uterine defects - There are several uterine defects that form at birth causing symptoms ranging from infertility, painful intercourse and unbearable menstrual cramps.
How do you manage severe Period cramps?
As painful as they can be, there are several things you can do to manage severe period pain.
- Ensure regular exercise - A 2015 study found that if you engage in 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 3 times a week, the severity of your cramps can decrease over the span of 8 weeks.
- Use heating solutions - Heat is a great way to alleviate pain. Try either a heating pad, hot water bottle or our amazing cramp relief patches to get instant relief from period pain.
- Take a hot water bath - Soaking or showering in hot water is a great way to relieve abdominal and lower back pain, while also getting rid of stress and muscle tensions.
- Try OTC medication - Even though they are not always functional against severe menstrual cramps, taking OTC painkillers a day before your cramps usually begin can provide better results.
- Manage your stress level - Stress has been shown to increase the severity of cramps. Engage in yoga or meditation to take care of your stress levels and reduce the effects of cramps to an extent.
- Use supplements - Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B-1 and B-6 and magnesium are known to reduce the degree of period pain. Incorporate them into your diet.
- Speak to a doctor - If your pain interferes with your daily life adversely or you suffer from additional symptoms, always check with a doctor to diagnose underlying conditions that may be causing such severe period pain.