For many women their bleeding time each month can be a painful experience. For thousands of years women have come up for a variety of reasons why this is happening to them, and the pain can vary from woman to woman. For some women the pain is debilitating.
Painful periods, known as Dysmenorrhea, is a common condition we see in our office. Each month when the uterine lining sheds as menstruation, the uterus must contract. In women with dysmenorrhea the contractions are very painful. The uterus may even spasm. Pain can be localized to the lower abdomen, but it can also be in the lower back, in the vulva, as well as radiating down the thighs. This wave like pain is often accompanied by headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The pain can begin up to 24 hours before menses begins and usually lasts for the first 48 hours once menses begins. In some women the pain may last up to 72 hours once menses begins.
Painful menstruation is one of the leading causes for women to miss work or school. This type of regular monthly pain also makes painful menstruation one of the leading reasons for regular use of NSAID’s (no steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in women.
If you have extremely painful menstruation it is important to talk to your medical doctor to rule out possible serious medical conditions. It is important to know if what you are experiencing is actual Primary Dysmenorrhea, or Secondary Dysmenorrhea. Primary means that it is the first issue, whereas secondary means there is another health issue causing or contributing to the painful menstruation. For example; Secondary Dysmenorrhea is often caused by endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or uterine fibroids. There may also be other factors that are causing pain that may also need to be ruled out, such as IBS, constipation, UTI, etc. While it is always easier to treat pain acutely (when it is happening) rather than address the root cause, it is very important to find out what is causing the pain in your body.
What Causes Painful Menstrual Cramps?
Scientists discovered that women with menstrual cramps had high levels of prostaglandin F2 alpha (PGF2). Prostaglandin F2 alpha is made by the uterus to stop progesterone production when there has been no implantation at the end of the menstrual cycle. Women with Dysmenorrhea have been shown to produce 7 times more prostaglandin F2 alpha than women who do not. When the prostaglandin F2 alpha is released into the blood stream in high levels it causes the uterus to spasm. This also creates a state of inflammation because PGF2 is a known inflammatory chemical in the body. Uterine cramping and inflammation is the cause of the pain. While scientists do not know conclusively why the body produces more PGF2 in women with painful menstrual cramps, including trans fats and hydrogenated fats in the diet have been shown to increase the PGE2 (a similar inflammatory substance produced by the body) series of prostaglandins in general. Clinically, we see a decrease of dysmenorrhea in our patients when we balance dietary fats.
Because pain is usually a warning signal from your body, it is important that the pain is investigated. While you are working with Carolyn to address the cause of the problem, there are a number of techniques you can use to relieve symptoms.
Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea
- Spasmodic cramping pains
- Fainting/dizzy spells
- Feeling wiped out and exhausted
- Low backache
- Pain down into the legs
Other Conditions to Consider
Because any pain in the body warrants investigation, it is important to rule out any other conditions that exhibit similar symptoms to that of dysmenorrhea, namely painful periods. Other reasons may include:
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Urinary tract infection
- Bowel obstruction
Natural Remedies for Painful Periods
The good news for many teenage/adolescent girls and women is that there are effective dietary measures and natural remedies to manage the symptoms of dysmenorrhea and help bring the body back into balance.
Carolyn will recommend positive changes to eating habits along with specific, key nutrients, homeopathic remedies and herbs to help relieve the symptoms of painful periods, balance hormones and balance prostaglandins.
Please refer to the links below for further reading and detailed information.
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