Some women have it easy, but many do not. Up to 80% of menstruating women experience painful periods, and 20-30% of these women suffer debilitating pain. Menstrual cramps may seem run-of-the-mill for those dreaded days of the month, but when it interferes with your normal day-to-day routine, it might be time to investigate.
Unfortunately, this monthly episodes are nightmares for some women. They crouch in pain, unable to move, or even faint.
Painful menstruation is also known as Dysmenorrhea. There are two types: primary and secondary.
The pain usually accompanies the start of the period or just one or two days before it occurs. Ranging from mild to severe, the pain is usually felt in the lower abdomen, back or thighs. Other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue or diarrhoea may be experienced together with pain.
This happens when a chemical (prostaglandin) tightens up the uterus, making it contract. When contraction occurs, it may press against the surrounding blood vessels, cutting off oxygen supply to the muscle tissues, thereby causing pain.
People with Secondary Dysmenorrhea may experience pain anytime between 20-30 days of the menstrual cycle. This form of menstrual pain is due to other problems with the reproductive organs. Some examples include Endometriosis (when fragments of the uterus lining develops outside the uterus), Andenomyosis (when the lining of the uterus grows into its muscle), Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, narrowing of the cervix or growths such as fibroids.
What type do I have?
It is important to determine which type of Dysmenorrhea you have, as the treatment differs. Your doctor will first attempt to comprehend your condition from your description of your pain and symptoms. If your doctor suspects that you may have Secondary Dysmenorrhea, he/she will order additional tests such an ultrasound or a CT scan, which are helpful in detecting cysts or fibroids.
My treatment options
If you are believed to be having Primary Dysmenorrhea, you may be prescribed pain relieving or anti-inflammatory medication that inhibits the chemical prostaglandin. Contraceptive pills are also useful in reducing prostaglandin and pain. Home remedies include ginger tea, using a hot water bottle on the abdomen or yoga and exercise.
A useful guideline for how much exercise to do in order to achieve effective results is to do at least 20 minutes each time and ensure that your heart rate increases to 1.5 times of your basal rate. Badminton, aerobics or even dancing are fun activities that can release endorphins and reduce prostaglandin levels.
For women who experience severe pain, they may need to go on medication such as nerve stabilisers or muscle relaxants that desensitise their nerves that cause pain. If these are not effective, injections can be made into the uterus to attain similar results.
If your symptoms or scans point to Secondary Dysmenorrhea, treatment is dependent on your diagnosis.
Is it time to seek a pain doctor?
If your pain is so severe that it inhibits you from work or school, and this pain cycle repeats for more than six months, it is time to seek help. Paincare specialists at Singapore Paincare Centre have treated many women and freed them from debilitating pain. If you are one of them, do not hesitate to seek help now.