Cramps occur when your uterus contracts to shed the unused lining. Severe cramping occurs when the uterus contracts so strongly, that it cuts off blood supply and oxygen delivery to the uterine muscle; much like a heart attack. Contractions are only temporary, so the disruption of blood and oxygen flow to the uterus is only temporary and therefore does not cause permanent damage.
There are two types of dysmenorrhea, the first is primary. This is the one that most women fall into. These are cramps that occur a day or two prior to your cycle and end a couple of days into your cycle. The younger you are the more intense your menstrual cramps tend to be. Often after childbirth, the symptoms are greatly reduced or even eliminated!
The other type of dysmenorrhea, called secondary dysmenorrhea, is caused by the reproductive organs. Those who suffer from secondary dysmenorrhea have a more prolonged and severe course of cramps. Women who suffer from menstrual cramps to the point that they are interfering with activities of daily living or missing work should be evaluated by a gynecologist. For most there is treatment. Common causes of severe menstrual cramps are endometriosis (tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside of the uterus), uterine fibroids (non-cancerous tumors that grown inside and outside of the uterus) and PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease in which an infection spreads from uterus to other reproductive organs). These medical conditions can be treated or at least medically managed.
Now that you know why you are in misery, let’s try to explore some helpful tips to ease you through it. Over the counter medications are very helpful if started early when the cramping first begins. If OTC medications don’t work, see your health care provider for a prescription pain medication. Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) have also been proven to reduce menstrual pain.
Non-pharmacological interventions include rest, apply a heating pad to your lower abdomen or lower back, curling up with a pillow against your lower abdomen, and breathing exercises to help relax. It is also important to avoide caffeine, salty foods, smoking and alcohol as these can all cause worsening of your cramps. Research has shown that women who exercise routinely also have less menstrual cramps. So try to make it a part of your normal routine. Exercising during your menstrual cycle is safe and helpful as well.
Until you have completed menopause or undergone a hysterectomy, you will continue to be burdened by menstrual cramps as a monthly acknowledgement of womanhood. You do not have to suffer throughout this time frame. Get exercising, eat right and think positive! Remember that you have wonderful resources to help you along the way, including your health care provider!