What are menstrual pains?
Most of women suffer from pain or discomfort with the time of the monthly period but this pain shouldn’t interfere with their daily activities. However, for some women their monthly period is painful, problematic and in some cases disabling. It can interfere with their lives because of the pain and inconvenience caused.
In some cases, the pain may be a symptom of endometriosis, which if untreated may impact on their fertility in later life. Dysmenorrhoea, especially when it is severe, is associated with a restriction of activity and absence from school or work. If period pains are more than an inconvenience, it’s wise to consult your doctor or gynaecologist.
What are the risk factors of menstrual pains?
The severity of dysmenorrhoea is significantly associated with duration of menstrual flow, younger average first menstrual cycle, smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption. High levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and disruption of social networks can increase the incidence of dysmenorrhoea. Primary dysmenorrhoea often improves in the third decade of a woman’s reproductive life and after childbirth.
What causes menstrual pains?
The natural pains are caused by contractions in the musculature of the uterus. The contractions are caused by the release of the body’s prostaglandins, which are hormones produced by the lining of the womb. This produces an interrelated cycle of cramp like pain, bleeding and uterine contractions. How can you avoid menstrual pains? The best thing to do yourself, besides convincing yourself that you are not sick, is to stay in good physical health.
This can be achieved by a healthy lifestyle with daily exercise, plenty of sleep and rest and, if possible, try to avoid stress. Over-the-counter painkillers, in particular ibuprofen (eg Advil or Nurofen), are often helpful and your pharmacist can often give advise you further on which ones are right for you. These act to reduce the pain and blood loss.
What can the doctor do?
If your period pains are not relieved by simple painkillers, your doctor may wish to perform a pelvic examination to rule out any underlying conditions that can cause dysmenorrhoea. Depending on this, a pelvic ultrasound scan or laparoscopy may be suggested. Medical treatment includes NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and also the contraceptive pill.
By preventing ovulation, the contraceptive pill reduces the production of prostaglandins and pain. If the pain is found to be caused by a condition, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis or fibroids, then the treatment will be tailored towards that condition.