What is meant by period pain?
When the egg released by the ovary does not get fertilized, it is exempted, along with the uterine lining, in the form of blood during what we call menstruation. The uterus sheds its lining and the egg with the help of contractions that are triggered by prostaglandins, a group of hormone-like lipids.
Prostaglandins cause inflammation and pain during these contractions and this is known as cramps or period pain.
Is it common to have cramps during periods?
It is actually very common to experience some degree of period pain. Studies have shown that around 16-90% of menstruators suffer from cramps that can begin a few days before their periods and last till the first few days of their menses.
But usually, the cramps should not interfere with your daily activities to the extent that they render you incapable of normal movement.
How do you know that your period pain isn’t normal?
Usually, menstrual cramps are normal during periods and they can be managed naturally or with the help of OTC medicines. But when your period pain becomes so severe that it starts to impact the quality of your life, you may be suffering from dysmenorrhea, which is a medical term for severe period pain.
Look out for these signs to identify your period pain as abnormal:
- It interferes with your daily life.
- OTC pain medication does not provide relief.
- You get pelvic pain outside of your periods.
- Your cramps persist for longer than 2 to 3 days during your periods.
- You notice other symptoms like heavy bleeding, painful sex, difficulty conceiving, etc along with your period cramps.
If you notice any of the above signs, you may be suffering from endometriosis.
What is endometriosis?
Normally, the endometrium (the tissue lining the walls of the uterus) grows on the inside walls of your womb. But, in endometriosis, this lining grows outside of the uterus like the ovaries, fallopian tube, etc.
The tissue acts like normal endometrium does and breaks during your periods in order to exit your body. But, since the lining has grown outside of the uterus, it has no way to leave your body. The surrounding areas may become inflamed and swell up, causing tremendous pain.
How common is it?
Endometriosis is a fairly common gynecological problem affecting about 3-10% of women during their reproductive age. Beyond that, about 25-50% of infertile women and 40-80% of women with pelvic pain are affected by the disorder around the world.
It’s not specific to any race and the symptoms usually start to get better after one hits menopause.
What are the main symptoms of endometriosis?
Endometriosis symptoms do not happen to everybody and in some cases, the symptoms can be similar to other disorders. For this reason, it often takes about 7 years to get a proper diagnosis in many cases. However, the following are the main symptoms of endometriosis:
- Dysmenorrhea - In endometriosis, you may suffer from dysmenorrhea, which is the medical term for severe pelvic pain and cramping. Your pain may start around 7-10 days before you actually bleed and you can also notice lower back pain with heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Painful intercourse - Because the blood has no way to exit the body, your pelvis can often get inflamed and swollen, giving rise to scarring and lesions inside the pelvis. So when you engage in penetrative sex, you may experience pain.
- Fertility problems - Endometriosis can cause a lot of damage to your reproductive organs and make it difficult for you to conceive. If you face fertility problems, it is worth checking to see if endometriosis is the underlying cause. Apart from these, you may also notice some of the following symptoms:
- Pain while trying to pass bowels or urine
- Bloody stool or urine
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Persistent fatigue
Regular period pain vs endometriosis
Regular period pain can be described as sharp cramping that is usually uncomfortable to deal with. In endometriosis, the feeling remains the same, but it differs in severity. Also, period pain occurs only around your menses, whereas endometriosis can make you suffer from pain even when you are not bleeding.
Normal period cramps can be managed by OTC pain medications, which are usually not enough for the pain from endometriosis. It gets difficult managing your day to day activities when you are suffering from endometriosis.
What are your treatment options?
- Pain medications - Since the pain is quite severe in many cases, OTC pain medications can prove useless. You can get prescription painkillers from a doctor to treat the severe cramps that arise from endometriosis.
- Hormone therapy - Hormonal therapies like birth control, progestin-only contraceptives and a few other medicines can lower the amount of estrogen in your body to stop or decrease your periods. This prevents the lesions from bleeding too much and also helps with inflammation, scarring and cyst formation, all of which can contribute to pain.
- Exercise - Exercise has a lot of proven benefits against endometriosis. It helps your heart pump adequate blood to all the organs, improving blood circulation and helping with nutrients and oxygen to reach all your systems. Further, exercising reduces estrogen levels, which can lighten your flow and help with endometriosis symptoms. Also, engaging in high activity exercises like running or biking can even make you less likely to develop this condition. Exercising is known to release endorphins, which lowers your stress levels and relieves you from pain. Even light stretching or yoga can stretch the muscles and tissues in your pelvis to help ease the pain.
- Diet - Include more fruits and vegetables in your diet along with foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, salmon and fish oil. You should also reduce red meat intake to lower your levels of estrogen and prostaglandins, both of which can contribute to pain and inflammation. It’s also advisable to avoid trans fats, caffeine and alcohol to reduce your risks.
- Heat - Heat therapy helps to reduce pain in any area of the body. If you think hot water bags and bottles are inconvenient and harder to carry around with you, try the Carmesi Cramp Relief Patch for instant pain relief. It is easy to use and completely portable, so you don’t have to worry about lugging around heavy water bottles.
Surgery - Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove affected tissues out of your body to help with the pain. It can sometimes also help you to get pregnant. On the other hand, if reproduction is not on your cards, you can look into a hysterectomy, which is the removal of your uterus, ovaries and cervix.
When should you see a doctor?
If you have any of the following symptoms, you should always seek medical assistance from a doctor:
- Changes in your menstrual cycle in terms of pain and discomfort are affecting your daily life.
- You notice differences in your cycle, such as bleeding more frequently or at odd times.
- Your pain and suffering aren't being relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers.
- You've had a usual sex life up until now and then you start having painful sex. Typically, the discomfort is felt deep within the pelvis.
- If you are attempting to conceive and are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you should seek medical attention immediately.