Women's Health

Menstrual Cramps: The Real Cause Of Your Painful Menstruation

The worst stomach ache I experienced was UNBEARABLE!

It felt like my tummy was tearing itself apart.

And that was the closest I (and every man) would ever get to feel the pains of menstrual cramps.

According to research, over half of the women in their reproductive age experience painful menstruation which can be worse than a mere stomach ache.

But these pains are often disregarded by many, including the women themselves, as a normal part of the menstrual cycle (which it isn’t).

When menstrual cramps are left untreated, they can worsen the underlying medical condition(s), damage your sensitivity to pain, alter your mood, hurt your relationships, disturb your sleep, and reduce your quality of life.

What it means to have menstrual cramps

Menstrual cramp is that pain you feel in your lower abdomen due to the excessive cramping of your uterine muscles during menstruation.

Menstrual cramps are also called dysmenorrhea (dis-men-or-ree-ah), painful menstruations, period pains, period cramps, or menstrual pains.

The pain of menstrual cramps can spread from your lower abdomen to your lower back, and sometimes to your legs.

Dysmenorrhea is said to be the most common menstrual disorder which occurs in almost 95% of women in their reproductive age.

The pains could be mild or severe in different women. Unfortunately, they all remain both under-diagnosed and undertreated.

What is the cause of menstrual cramps?

  • The menstruation period of your menstrual cycle phases is responsible for your monthly blood flow.
  • This blood had lined the walls of your uterus to nourish your egg if fertilized.
  • But since you didn’t get pregnant, the blood has to go.
  • Your uterus has to squeeze a little to detach this blood lining from its wall.
  • This squeezing is triggered by a hormone called Prostaglandin.
  • An excessive amount of this hormone (Prostaglandin) causes your uterus to squeeze too hard.
  • And this too much squeezing brings you that pain during your menstruation.

However, the intensity of pain that you feel during your menstruation depends on some factors, including your type of menstrual cramp.

Types of menstrual cramps (or dysmenorrhea)

  1. Primary dysmenorrhea
  2. Secondary dysmenorrhea

Primary dysmenorrhea

Primary dysmenorrhea is the type of painful menstruation that is not associated with any underlying medical condition(s).

This type of dysmenorrhea starts a year or two after menarche and therefore popular in young women under the age of 35 years.

The pains from primary dysmenorrhea could last up to 3 days beginning from or just before the first day of your menstruation every month.

The reason why older women are least likely to experience this particular menstrual cramp is that primary dysmenorrhea gets better with age, unlike the secondary type.

Secondary dysmenorrhea

Secondary dysmenorrhea is the painful menstruation associated with some underlying medical conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

This particular menstrual cramp is prevalent in older women and worsens with time as that underlying medical condition is left undiagnosed and untreated.

Symptoms of menstrual cramps

Apart from the sharp pains in your lower abdomen or legs and lower back, other symptoms may accompany your painful menstruation.

  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Body vibration or trembling
  • High body temperature at night
  • Nausea (you feel like vomiting)
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Swollen belly
  • Diarrhea

What are your chances of having menstrual cramps?

Early age of menarche. The minimum age for your menstrual to start is eight years old. If yours began earlier than your 8th birthday, then you are most likely to experience painful menstruations.

Your current age. If you are younger, there is an increased chance of having primary dysmenorrhea, but this reduces as you grow older. And if you are older, there is an increased chance that your painful menstruation is secondary dysmenorrhea and if left untreated, would keep getting worse.

Longer and heavier menstrual blood flow. There is an increased chance of dysmenorrhea if your menstruations last longer than seven days — also, the amount of blood loss during your menstruation matters.

Level of physical activity. How regular you exercise can decrease your chances of having painful menstruation.

Smoking.

Alcohol consumption. Your hormonal balance can be disturbed by too much alcohol intake.

Your body mass index (BMI). Fatty acid contributes to the production of Prostaglandin – the hormone that squeezes your uterus. Therefore, excess fat would mean excess Prostaglandin and then, menstrual cramps.

Your family history. If your mother had painful menstruation, the chances are that you’d have it too.

Null parity (Your pregnancy status). Women who have given birth before are less likely to experience dysmenorrhea than women who haven’t been through pregnancy or childbirth.

READ ALSO: How To Increase Your Chances Of Getting Pregnant

What are the effects of menstrual cramps on your wellbeing?

The pains and discomfort of dysmenorrhea can negatively impact your life in the following ways and even more.

Bad moods

The pains can make you irritable. You may find yourself snapping at everyone and everything for little or no provocation.

I’ve been a victim of this transferred aggression once, and never again have I joked with any lady around her time of the month. EVER!

A meme of buzz lightyear showing woody something

Negative emotions

The thought of your next menstruations as just another painful experience will always weigh you down. This can make you sad and depressed throughout that time of the month.

Absenteeism

Over 50% of women with dysmenorrhea reported in a study that they miss school or work for at least 1 – 2day(s) every month due to menstrual pains.

Recreational avoidance

You tend to avoid any physical activity.

Antisocial

Menstrual cramps can make you shy away from even your favourite social activities for fear of not ruining the event with your mood swing.

Interpersonal relationships

Your relationship with family and friends may suffer the most, especially if they don’t understand why. The mood swing, emotions, lack of sleep, etc. can disturb how you interact with people.

They may think that you are just rude, harsh, or insensitive at will.

Sleeplessness

Pain is one of the primary causes of insomnia.

National Sleep Foundation found that most women sleep for less than their recommended sleep duration during their menstruation nights. This sleeplessness was associated with painful menstruations.

Fatigue and sleepiness

As a result of this sleeplessness, you may feel too tired and sleepy during the day.

Increased pain sensitivity

Continuous menstrual pains can lower your pain threshold, over time. This means that you’d feel the most pain even at the slightest of sensations.

A small bite or pinch could hurt you for hours or days.

Conclusion

A notable difference between primary and secondary dysmenorrhea is that one gets better (less painful) as you grow older while the other gets worse (more painful).

But even if you can, you still don’t have to put up and manage with the discomfort of painful menstruations.

Thanks to research, several treatments for reducing menstrual pains have been confirmed as effective.

And the earlier you begin with these menstrual pain reliefs, the better your overall health and quality of life.

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References
1. Dysmenorrhea. (2019). www.johnhopkinsmedicine.org
2. Menstrual cramps. (Apr. 2014). www.mayoclinic.org
3. Menstrual cramps. (Jul. 2018). www.youngwomenshealth.org
4. Period pain. (Mar. 2019). www.medlineplus.gov
5. The prevalence and risk factor of dysmenorrhea. (Nov. 2013). www.academic.oup.com
6. What we know about primary dysmenorrhea today. (Sep. 2015). www.academic.oup.com

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