Menstrual pain or period pain (dysmenorrhoea in medical terms) is the pain experienced by women before or during menstruation or both. About 60% of women have experienced period pain at some point in their lives, and in 5%-10% women, it is severe enough to disrupt their normal course of life.
Menstrual pain is classified into primary and secondary.
- Primary dysmenorrhoea occurs when the pelvis and ovarian function are normal and no cause can be found for pain.
- Secondary dysmenorrhoea describes pain which has an underlying cause due to some pelvic disorder. Though it can occur at any age, it is most commonly observed in women 20-45 years of age.
Any woman who has ever experienced period pain can tell you exactly what it feels like:
There can be a number of causes why a woman could be suffering from period pain. The main causes are:
- Moderate to severe pain in the lower abdomen sometimes accompanied by throbbing, experienced before or during menstruation.
- The pain can sometimes radiate in the back and in the thighs also.
- It is quite different from the abdominal pain caused due to hunger or overeating.
- Some women also experience nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, and headaches with menstrual pain.
- Endometriosis: This is a common, painful condition affecting about 10% of all women. In this condition, the tissue which normally grows inside the uterus grows outside on the ovaries or bowel instead. When hormonal changes take place during the menstrual cycle, this misplaced tissue becomes inflamed and can cause moderate to severe pain. Since this tissue is not in the uterus but has grown outside, it does not get expelled in the same way as the uterine lining during menstruation but gets trapped in the pelvis over time. Apart from causing severe pain, endometriosis can also cause infertility.
Endometriosis has no cure, but the symptoms and effects of this can be managed with medication, therapy, and surgery.
- Uterine Fibroids: These are benign (not cancerous) tumours which grow on the uterine walls. The exact cause of uterine fibroids is not known but they tend to run in families. Uterine fibroids cause heavy menstrual bleeding and severe pain in the abdominal or pelvic region. They can also cause pressure on the rectum and bladder, lead to weight gain around the waist and in some cases, infertility.
In the case of menopausal women where the uterine fibroids are not showing any symptoms, no treatment may be necessary. For women of child-bearing age, the doctor may prescribe medication (to shrink the fibroids) or surgery (to remove the fibroids) depending on the size and symptoms of the fibroids.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): This is a common health condition affecting a large percentage of sexually active women. It is an infection of the womb, ovaries, fallopian tubes or other reproductive organ caused by the transmission of bacteria. PID causes vaginal irritation, vaginal discharge, pelvic pain and also infertility in some cases. The easiest way to avoid PID is by practicing safe sex. PID can be treated by antibiotics and rare cases may require surgery.
- Adenomyosis: In this condition, the uterine tissue which in normal circumstances only lines the inside of the uterus, grows into the muscular wall of the uterus too (where it isn’t supposed to grow). Even though it grows in the muscular wall, it continues to function like the uterine tissue - thickening, breaking down and bleeding, during each menstrual cycle. This causes the uterus to become enlarged and makes periods heavy and painful.
Hormonal treatment can help ease the discomfort of adenomyosis. In severe cases, removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) cures adenomyosis. However, this condition resolves itself when women hit menopause.
Effective ways to ease menstrual cramps
It is essential to seek your doctor’s opinion to diagnose the cause of menstrual pain. While you should follow the doctors advise with regard to medication, there are some effective ways of easing menstrual pain at home.
- Eat healthier: Research has indicated that following a low-fat, high vegetable diet reduces the intensity and duration of menstrual cramps. This could be because a low-fat diet decreases the overall inflammation levels in the body and improves your overall health too. For a healthier diet, reduce the intake of animal products and switch to plant-based products like nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, and vegetable or olive oil. For guidance on how to eat healthier, you could seek help from Harvard University here.
- Exercise: Though the thought of exercising may go against every bone in your body when you are already exhausted and in pain, many women find that exercising helps relieve menstrual cramps. Exercise releases endorphins, the chemicals that promote well being. All forms of exercise - walking, running, or swimming, are safe during your period. However, if you are fatigued, yoga or tai-chi are gentler forms of exercise which may be better suited.
- Heat the pain away: Applying a heating pad, or a hot water bottle to your abdomen can provide relief from menstrual cramps. The continuous application of gentle heat has been found to provide relief from menstrual pain as heat helps muscles relax. The pain relief patch by Sirona India is recommended for period pain. The product is 100% herbal with no side effects. The presence of Menthol and Eucalyptus oil help provide instant relief from period pain. One can wear this discreetly under clothing.
- Massage with aromatic essential oils: Massaging your lower abdomen with certain aromatic essential oils like lavender, marjoram or sage can also relieve menstrual cramps according to research. You need to make sure to dilute the essential oils in an unscented cream or lotion or another oil before using directly on the skin.
Cures from your kitchen:
- Cumin: Cumin has anti-spasmodic (relieves spasms) and anti-inflammatory properties and not just helps relieve menstrual cramps but also helps regularise irregular periods. Take 2 spoons of cumin seeds and soak in water overnight and drink this water in the morning. Practice this regularly to experience relief from menstrual pain.
- Fenugreek (methi) seeds: Fenugreek seeds are good for metabolism and for various organs including the liver and kidneys. They are good during your periods too by effectively reducing cramping. Just soak a spoonful of fenugreek seeds in a cup of water for 12 hours and drink this to experience relief.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is superfood which is truly a medicinal wonder of nature. It is helpful in regulating menstruation and balancing hormones. Make turmeric milk by mixing a quarter spoon of powdered turmeric with milk and honey. Drinking this regularly at bedtime will provide relief from menstrual cramps.
- Ginger: Make a tea by steeping some ginger in water. You could add sugar or honey for taste but avoid milk. Drink this three times a day, post meals. Ginger can effectively reduce period pain as it helps lower the levels of prostaglandins (which cause inflammation). It also helps in regularising periods and fights fatigue associated with premenstrual syndrome.
Women who experience menstrual cramps, spend a significant part of each month in agony. They need to be assured that this need not be the case. While some part of period pain is genetic, a lot of it can be taken care of by modern medicine and by taking care of your health by eating and exercising right.