What is cramping pain?
Menstrual pain — which is also known by its medical term, dysmenorrhea — is the most common cause of gynecological complaints. Studies have estimated that cramps affect anywhere from 45% to 95% of women at some point. Menstrual pain is also a common cause of school and work absenteeism, especially in women who experience severe symptoms.
There are different types of menstrual pain, and identifying its cause is an important step. Doctors usually divide menstrual pain into two categories: primary and secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea occurs when there isn’t an underlying medical condition that causes your menstrual pain. Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, is associated with at least one identifiable condition that causes pain.
Primary dysmenorrhea symptoms and characteristics include:
- Pain that occurs near the start of your menstruation.
- Can be associated with other symptoms, such as headaches, back pain, nausea, and diarrhea.
- You don’t suffer from any disease that can explain your cramps.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea symptoms include:
- Connection with an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids or polyps and pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Your cramps might become more painful over time or change their previous pattern.
- The primary disease can cause other gynecologic symptoms.
Why do period cramps happen?
During your menstrual cycle, your uterine lining, or endometrium, thickens in preparation for pregnancy and if there is no pregnancy, your uterus starts to contract to shed that lining and prepare for the next cycle. This is the main reason why period cramps hurt.
Throughout this process, the cells in your uterine lining release substances called prostaglandins. This increases the contraction of your uterus and decreases blood flow, this is why we get period cramps.
Women who suffer from painful menstrual cramps release more prostaglandins than women who don’t, and other dysmenorrhea causes can also be associated with higher prostaglandin levels. Prostaglandin levels are one of the main reasons why women get cramps.
When do women usually get cramps?
The moment when period cramps start usually depends on their cause. Primary dysmenorrhea tends to cause cramps that last between 8 and 72 hours, and they usually coincide with the start of your menstruation. Some women can get bad cramps before their period since the uterus is already preparing to shed its lining.
Primary dysmenorrhea can cause painful cramps during your period, and they can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as back pain and nausea. These cramps tend to start around your first menstruation, and they will usually remain constant during your period for years.
Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, causes bad cramps during your period that increase over time. This increase in pain can be accompanied by a heavier flow, pain during different times of the month, or painful intercourse. These new, worsening symptoms can be a sign that it’s time to go to the doctor.
How to stop period cramps?
Even though your period can be uncomfortable, many home remedies for menstrual cramps can help alleviate your discomfort during these days. Read on how to help period cramps.
Take over-the-counter medications
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs provide relief to many women who suffer from primary dysmenorrhea. They achieve this by lowering your production of prostaglandins, which makes them appropriate for cramps. These drugs can provide cramp relief:
If non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are not an option for you or if you need an additional relief, apply a heating pad or a hot-water bottle to your pelvic area. Applying heat to your abdomen can help mitigate menstrual cramps and relax your muscles.
Eat healthier to reduce pain
It’s no secret that eating healthy foods and reducing your fat intake can benefit your body. However, you might not know that these dietary changes can also provide a way to relieve menstrual cramps.
Eating healthy fats and lots of vegetables can reduce inflammation throughout your body, affecting your levels of estrogen and prostaglandins and reducing menstrual pain. These foods are delicious and can help you manage inflammation and pain:
- Nuts and seeds
- Leafy greens
- Brown rice
- Olive oil
You should also make sure to drink plenty of water during the day. Being hydrated will help you reduce uncomfortable bloating and oxygenate sore muscles.
There are also foods that increase inflammation and cause bloating, worsening your cramps. These are some of the foods you should avoid during your period:
- Saturated fats
- Fried foods
- Salty foods
- Processed foods
- Dairy products
You can also try to take fish oil, magnesium, or vitamin B1 supplements; these substances have been found to significantly reduce period cramps. Remember to check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine.
Plants that reduce menstrual pain
Herbs have been traditionally used for menstrual pain relief, and they can help you feel better quickly. Some of the herbal teas that can help with your cramps include:
- Cramp bark
Some doctors recommend that women start taking their preferred herbal tea about a week before their expected period. Using the Flo app can help you keep track of your cycle to know when your period is coming.
Another beneficial way in which you can use herbs during your period is massaging your lower abdomen with essential oils. These essential oils can provide relief for your menstrual pain:
- Clary sage
You should always ask your doctor for advice before using any herbal substances since some of them can interact with certain medications.
Not getting enough rest can increase stress levels, which will make you feel worse during the day. So, make sure you give your body plenty of rest every day, and especially during your period. Getting plenty of sleep will allow your body to recover from the discomfort, and it will help you be more relaxed throughout the day.
Get moving to relieve your symptoms
It’s no secret that your body releases endorphins while you work out. These endorphins can improve your mood, and they also help reduce pain. During your period, exercising might be the last thing you’d want to do, but it can be very beneficial.
Maintaining a healthy exercise routine can help your overall physical condition. Try activities such as walking, stretching, or yoga that still obtain benefits.
Another way in which exercise might help period cramps is by improving pelvic blood flow, helping oxygenate your tissues.
A doctor can help reduce period cramps
If home remedies don’t ease your cramps, or your symptoms are worsening or too intense, your doctor could prescribe other treatments. Consider going to the doctor if:
- Your cramps are worsening.
- Your cramps are a new occurrence.
- Your menstrual flow increases (for example, if you notice that you go through more sanitary pads or tampons in one day).
- Extreme pain keeps you from performing your usual routine.
- The pain isn’t relieved after taking NSAIDs.
If your menstrual cramps are caused by an underlying disease, your doctor will most likely need to run some tests to provide an accurate diagnosis. After the cause of your discomfort has been determined, they will be the best person to help you find the best treatment for you.
Finding the right pain reliever for menstrual cramps for you might require some trial and error. While there isn’t one specific cure for cramps, these tips can help you manage your discomfort. Remember that everybody is different, and a strategy that helps one woman might not work for another.
However, you should keep in mind that extreme period cramps can be a sign of secondary dysmenorrhea, meaning that there could be an underlying condition causing your discomfort. You can use Flo to track your cycle and symptoms.