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How to deal with Dysmenorrhea - Painful Periods / Menstrual Cramps

Menstruation is a natural process that women go through each month. However, for some women, it can be accompanied by intense pain and discomfort, known as dysmenorrhea. Dysmenorrhea, commonly referred to as painful periods or menstrual cramps, can significantly impact a woman's quality of life. This blog will explore dysmenorrhea, its symptoms, types, causes, and most importantly, effective strategies to manage and alleviate the pain and discomfort. By understanding dysmenorrhea and implementing the proper techniques, women can find relief and enjoy better overall well-being during their menstrual cycles. 

What is Dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea (Greek: dysdifficult, painful or abnormal; meno – month, period; rrhea – flow) is a medical term used to describe painful menstrual cramps that occur just before or during menstruation. It is a common condition experienced by many women and can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. The pain is typically felt in the lower abdomen but can also radiate to the lower back and thighs. 

 

Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea

  • Menstrual pain: Cramping or throbbing pain in the lower abdomen. 
  • Back pain: Dull or sharp pain in the lower back. 
  • Headaches and migraines: Intense headaches that may occur with or without menstrual pain. 
  • Nausea and vomiting: Feeling nauseous or vomiting during menstruation. 
  • Fatigue and mood changes: Feeling tired, irritable, or experiencing mood swings. 
  • Abdominal bloating: Feeling of fullness or swelling in the abdomen. 

 

Types of Dysmenorrhea

There are two main types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. 

Primary Dysmenorrhea: 

  • Occurs due to natural hormonal changes during menstruation. 
  • Usually, it starts during the teenage years and improves with age.  
  • No underlying medical condition is causing the pain. 
  • It is caused by the release of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that trigger uterine contractions and pain during menstruation. 

Secondary Dysmenorrhea: 

  • An underlying medical condition or reproductive disorder causes it.  
  • It can develop at any age, even after years of pain-free periods.  
  • Conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhea include endometriosis, adenomyosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and fibroids. 

 

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What if fibroids cause the pain?

If you suspect that fibroids cause your menstrual pain, it is important to seek medical evaluation and diagnosis. Fibroids are noncancerous growths that can develop in or around the uterus. They can cause heavy menstrual bleeding and severe pelvic pain. 

 
How is dysmenorrhea diagnosed?

Dysmenorrhea can be diagnosed through a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and, if necessary, additional diagnostic tests. Here's an overview of the diagnostic process for dysmenorrhea: 

Medical History Assessment: 

  • Your doctor will ask you about your menstrual history, including the onset of symptoms, the character and severity of the pain, and any associated symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or headaches. 
  • They may inquire about your menstrual cycle length, regularity, and the duration and intensity of the pain. 
  • It's important to provide details about any factors that worsen or alleviate the pain and any previous treatments you have tried. 

Physical Examination: 

  • A pelvic examination may be performed to check for any abnormalities in the reproductive organs. This involves the doctor manually examining the uterus, cervix, and ovaries by inserting gloved fingers into the vagina. 
  • The examination can help identify signs of conditions that may contribute to dysmenorrhea, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, or fibroids. 

 Diagnostic Tests: 

  • In many cases, the diagnosis of dysmenorrhea can be made based on medical history and physical examination. However, in certain situations, additional tests may be recommended to rule out other underlying conditions or assess the dysmenorrhea's severity. 
  • Ultrasound: This imaging test uses sound waves to create images of the pelvic organs. It can help identify structural abnormalities like ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids. 
  • Laparoscopy: In cases where endometriosis or other conditions are suspected, a minimally invasive surgical procedure called laparoscopy may be performed. It allows direct visualisation of the reproductive organs and can aid in diagnosing and treating underlying conditions. 

 

Treatment of Dysmenorrhea

The treatment options for dysmenorrhea depend on the severity of the pain and its underlying cause. Here are some common approaches: 

 Lifestyle modifications 

  • Regular exercise and physical activity improve blood flow and reduce pain.  
  • A healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supports overall well-being.  
  • Stress reduction techniques include meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.  

 Heat therapy 

  • Applying a heating pad or warm baths can help relax the muscles and reduce pain. 

 Over-the-counter pain relief 

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can provide relief from menstrual pain. 

 Complementary and alternative therapies 

  • Acupuncture, acupressure, and herbal remedies may help alleviate pain for some women. 

 Hormonal contraceptives 

  • Birth control pills or hormonal patches can regulate hormonal fluctuations and reduce pain. 

 Prescription medications 

  • A doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications or hormonal therapies in severe cases. 

 

Dysmenorrhea can significantly impact a woman's quality of life, but it doesn't have to be a constant source of discomfort. By understanding the types, symptoms, and causes of dysmenorrhea, women can take proactive steps to manage and alleviate the pain. Lifestyle modifications, heat therapy, over-the-counter pain relief, complementary therapies, hormonal contraceptives, and prescription medications are all potential treatment options for dysmenorrhea. It is important to consult a doctor to determine the most suitable approach for your needs. Remember, you don't have to suffer in silence. By seeking help and implementing effective strategies, you can find relief and regain control over your menstrual health. 

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References 

    1. John Hopkins. Dysmenorrhea. 14 Nov 2023 Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/dysmenorrhea  
    1. Cleveland Clinic. Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual Cramps). 14 Nov 2023 Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4148-dysmenorrhea  
    1. Mayo Clinic. Menstrual cramps. 14 Nov 2023 Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/symptoms-causes/syc-20374938  
     

Topics: Women's Health

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OT&P Healthcare

OT&P Healthcare is a Premium Private Healthcare Practice in Hong Kong. Our priority is to help individuals to enhance and optimise their health by providing easy access to a wide range of excellent practitioners and information, supported by management systems and technology that ensure quality of service and value. Our Mission is to provide pre-eminent private healthcare in Hong Kong. We aim to be the best in class fully integrated healthcare service, providing a circle of care for all our patients' needs.

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