Ask any woman and she will likely say that she has experienced menstrual cramps at some point in her life. For some women, these cramps are relatively minor and without consequence, but for others, they can be painful and debilitating.
What are menstrual cramps, anyway?
Known to doctors as “dysmenorrhea,” menstrual cramps may occur immediately prior to or during a woman’s period. There are two types of menstrual cramps: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary.
The former is what most women know to be common cramps, that usually begin a year or two after she begins her period and occur in the lower abdomen or back, ranging from mild to severe pain. These menstrual cramps may become less severe and more infrequent as a woman ages and may disappear completely once she has her first baby. Secondary dysmenorrhea refers to cramps caused by a disease or disorder within a woman’s reproductive organs. These cramps typically begin much earlier in the menstrual cycle, last longer, and are more severe than their primary counterparts.
Cramping is caused by uterine contractions. The uterus is a pear-shaped, hollow organ and will contract throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, thus sloughing off the lining, which is released through the vagina. If the uterus contracts too strongly, it will press against the surrounding blood vessels cutting off their oxygen and causing a cramp.
The symptoms of menstrual cramps go beyond just a normal cramp. There is often an aching in the abdomen or lower back, pain in the hips, lower back, and inner thighs, upset stomach, vomiting, and sometimes even diarrhea. For some women, the cramps may become so severe they cannot walk, stand, or sit comfortably. Severe cramps can also lead to missed work and disrupt a woman’s life significantly.
Relieving menstrual cramps
Women do not have to live with debilitating menstrual cramps – they are highly treatable. Any cramping that lasts more than two or three days or is so severe she cannot proceed with a normal day should be brought to a doctor’s attention. However, women can take action to deal with bad menstrual cramps for themselves.
Relieving mild menstrual cramps is relatively simple – medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen are very effective. Women who experience severe cramps may also consult their doctor and buy Celebrex, another very effective prescription medication. In addition to medications, applying heat to the lower back or abdomen or taking a warm bath can work wonders.
In addition to taking pain relievers, getting on “The Pill” might also help. Hormonal contraceptives, such as the birth control pill contain certain hormones that prevent ovulation, thus reducing the severity and frequency of menstrual cramps. Staying on a hormonal method throughout the year can drastically reduce the onset of cramps, though taking a break from the pill may help a woman regulate her body from time to time.
Women who engage in regular exercise also experience less severe and less frequent menstrual cramps. In an effort to prevent cramping, it is a good idea to incorporate exercise into one’s weekly routine. However, getting up and moving during the cramping can also help – simply take a walk around the neighborhood, run on a treadmill, or taking a bike ride can do wonders for increasing blood flow and reducing cramps. Yoga and stretching have also been known to help.
Diet also plays a role in preventing menstrual pain. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of fiber, and lots of water is particularly beneficial. Eating these foods will help cleanse the body of extra estrogen, which contributes to the onset and severity of cramps. Making sure that one gets enough vitamin E, Omega-3 fatty acids, and thiamine also have been shown to help.