Dysmenorrhea (Period Cramps) - Treatment, Causes & Home Remedies

Written By: Dr. Dima Bader Aldin

Dr. Dima Bader Aldin is a Specialist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Mirdiff city centre - Medcare Medical Centre. She completed her studies in medicine through the Arab Board of Health Specialization in Obstetrics and Gynecology in Dubai.

Updated On:February 14, 2024

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What is Dysmenorrhea?

The medical name for unpleasant periods cramps is "dysmenorrhea." You may also experience other symptoms including nausea, tiredness, and diarrhea in addition to cramps. The day before or the first day of your period is when menstrual pains are most prevalent. In the majority of cases, symptoms go away in two to three days.

Normal menstrual cramps range from mild to moderate. However, some people have such intense pain during their period that it interferes with their daily activities and keeps them from enjoying themselves. Painful periods can be relieved with medication and other therapies.

Dysmenorrhea Types

Dysmenorrhea comes in two types: primary and secondary.

  • Primary Dysmenorrhea
    Menstrual pains that return each time you get your period but are not caused by another medical problem are known as primary dysmenorrhea. One or two days before your menstruation or when the bleeding really starts, the pain normally starts. Your lower abdomen, back, or thighs could be inflamed, causing pain that ranges from mild to severe. Usually, the pain goes away in two to three days. The more typical form of dysmenorrhea is primary dysmenorrhea.
     
  • Secondary Dysmenorrhea
    When a sickness or infection in your reproductive organs causes you to experience painful periods, this condition is known as secondary dysmenorrhea. Pain from secondary dysmenorrhea often begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts longer than cramps do. For instance, you can get cramps a few days before the start of your period, and the pain might last until the bleeding completely stops. Secondary dysmenorrhea is less common.

Causes of Dysmenorrhea

When your uterus contracts (tightens up), a substance called prostaglandin causes menstrual pains to occur. Your uterus contracts harder during menstruation because prostaglandin levels are higher. This is the agony and cramping you experience. The blood and tissue that leaks from your vagina during your period, along with your uterine lining, is assisted by these contractions. Just prior to the start of menstruation, prostaglandin levels increase. Because levels drop once you start your period, cramping usually subsides within a few days.

Secondary dysmenorrhea, a disorder that affects your reproductive organs, causes menstrual pain. The following causes can result in cramping:

Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea

When your period is painful, you could experience:

  • Abdominal pain that is throbbing and aching (pain may be intense at times)
  • An abdominal pressure sensation
  • Hip, lower back, and inner thigh pain
  • Headaches, nausea, and vertigo

Most of the time, the discomfort starts 24 to 48 hours prior to your period and ends 48 hours after it starts.

When to see a doctor for Dysmenorrhea?

Painful, uncommon, or prolonged menstrual cramps that persist for longer than three days require you to get checked by a doctor. All types of menstrual cramps can be treated with proper intervention.

Dysmenorrhea Risk Factors

While any woman can experience dysmenorrhea, the following women may have a higher chance of doing so:

  • Female smokers
  • Alcohol consumption by women during menstruation
  • Women who are obese
  • Women who began having menstruation before turning 11
  • Those who have never given birth

Dysmenorrhea Complications

The only real difficulty that typically results from menstrual cramps is that they interfere with your regular activities. However, there may be issues if a medical problem is producing painful periods. Examples of illnesses that might cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy include endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease. Because of this, it's crucial to visit a doctor so they can rule out an underlying reason for your period pain.

Dysmenorrhea Diagnosis

Your doctor will first ask you to list your symptoms and menstrual cycles. Through the insertion of gloved fingers into your vagina, they will conduct a pelvic exam. Your doctor will also place a speculum within your vagina during this examination. This enables them to see your cervix and vagina more clearly. For testing, they could extract a tiny sample of vaginal fluid. Finding out if a medical problem is causing painful periods is the aim of the examination. Your doctor will determine that you have primary dysmenorrhea if there isn't a clear cause.

You could require extra testing if your doctor suspects you have secondary dysmenorrhea, which is dysmenorrhea brought on by another medical issue. Your doctor can see your uterus and other reproductive organs more clearly thanks to imaging and other diagnostic testing. Your provider might advise:

  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound creates images of your uterus, ovaries, and other reproductive organs using sound waves.
  • Hysteroscopy: With a narrow, illuminated instrument, your doctor performs a hysteroscopy to view your uterus. A screen receives photographs of your uterus thanks to the equipment.
  • Laparoscopy: Using a laparoscope, which is a narrow tube with a light and camera at the end, your doctor will make a few small incisions in your belly to observe your pelvic organs.

Dysmenorrhea Treatment

You can take a number of actions to lessen unpleasant periods.

  • NSAIDs and additional medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), which act as painkillers, are frequently used to treat dysmenorrhea. These include drugs that you can get at your neighborhood pharmacy or grocery store, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. They function by lowering your body's prostaglandin levels. Take these as soon as cramping starts for optimal results. If NSAIDs are off-limits, try acetaminophen or another painkiller instead.

Your doctor may also write prescriptions for you, including stronger doses of ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory drug than are available over the counter.

  •  Hormone-related treatments

Additionally, your doctor might advise hormonal birth control as a treatment. Hormone therapy patients typically experience reduced menstrual pain. This might comprise contraceptive methods like the pill, a patch, or a vaginal ring.

If testing reveals that you have secondary dysmenorrhea, your doctor will talk to you about how to treat the pain-causing condition. Oral contraceptives, additional types of medicine, or surgery may be needed.

Dysmenorrhea Remedies

Without using medication, there are a number of ways to relieve period cramps. Here are a few of them:

  • The application of a heating pad or hot water bottle to your lower back or abdomen to relieve cramps
  • Additional sleep
  • The avoidance of caffeine
  • Don't consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes
  • Your abdomen and lower back should be massaged
  • Routinely working out

References

Coco, A. S. (1999). Primary dysmenorrhea. American family physician60(2), 489.

Dawood, M. Y. (2006). Primary dysmenorrhea: advances in pathogenesis and management. Obstetrics & Gynecology108(2), 428-441.

French, L. (2005). Dysmenorrhea. American family physician71(2), 285-291.

Ju, H., Jones, M., & Mishra, G. (2014). The prevalence and risk factors of dysmenorrhea. Epidemiologic reviews36(1), 104-113.

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