Menstrual cramps, otherwise known as dysmenorrhea is thought to affect about 50% of the women. Doctors tend to deal with it by either dismissing the pain as a psychological problem or prescribing painkillers. Today researchers have come a long way toward a better understanding of menstrual cramps.
There are 2 types of dysmenorrhea:
- Primary dysmenorrhea: Dysmenorrhea not caused by any physical abnormality of reproductive organs. Characterised by sharp, spasmodic pains in your lower abdomen OR dull ache in your lower back at the beginning of your period, or a day or two earlier, and it lasts two to three days.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea: Dysmenorrhea marked by pelvic and lower-back pain in which the pain is a symptom of another disease or condition that may require treatment such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, and adenomyosis.
Main cause of dysmenorrhea:
- Dysmenorrhea happens when your uterus contracts to push out the menstrual blood. Imbalances between the hormones progesterone and estrogen worsen menstrual cramping. Hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) involved in pain and inflammation trigger the uterine muscle contractions and higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more-severe menstrual cramps (1).
- Warm bath or lying down with a heating pad or hot-water bottle on your lower abdomen
- Exercise, take a walk around the block or a few sit-ups will stimulate your muscles to release feel-good endorphins
- Birth control or estrogen pills to decrease your body's production of prostaglandin.
- Calcium 1000mg daily has been found to reduce both premenstrual and menstrual symptom scores (2). In fact high intake of calcium and Vitamin D may reduce risk of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (3).
- According to Christiane Northrup, M.D in her book 'Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Revised Edition): Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing', she suggested getting plenty of essential fatty acids (salmon, flaxseed oil etc); take extra magnesium and a multivitamin-and-mineral supplement; take extra vitamin E during your menstrual cycles; eliminate trans-fatty acids from your diet; cut down on stress and consider yoga or massage.
1. Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/basics/causes/con-20025447
2. Thys-Jacobs S, Ceccarelli S, Bierman A, Weisman H, Cohen MA, Alvir J. Calcium supplementation in premenstrual syndrome: a randomized crossover trial. J Gen Intern Med. 1989 May-Jun;4(3):183-9. PubMed PMID: 2656936.
3. Bertone-Johnson ER, Hankinson SE, Bendich A, Johnson SR, Willett WC, Manson JE. Calcium and vitamin D intake and risk of incident premenstrual syndrome. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Jun 13;165(11):1246-52. PubMed PMID: 15956003.
Dr Nicole Ng (MBBS) is a medical doctor with a passion in women's health and medical research