Dysmenorrhea is a very common gynological condition among women in the United States. A widespread reproductive health topic, dysmenorrhea affects a woman’s menstruation and can lead to painful periods, including stomach cramps and heavy bleeding.
What is Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is defined as a difficult or painful period, and it currently affects over half of all women. Dysmenorrhea is differentiated from severe PMS by the fact that it causes a disruption in regular activities and lifestyle for one to two days per month.
Primary dysmenorrhea (also known as spasmodic dysmenorrhea) is defined as menstrual pain that is not related to a pelvic disease. This type of dysmenorrhea occurs a few years after a woman has had her first menstrual period (also known as menarche). It affects 50% of all post-pubescent females.
Symptoms of dysmenorrhea include:
- loose stools
- pain in the lower back and thighs
- pain and throbbing in the lower abdomen
If dysmenorrhea symptoms interrupt your schedule for more than a few days a month, you should consult your doctor.
Why Does it Occur?
It is believed that primary dysmenorrhea occurs due to prostaglandins, the same hormone-like substance that plays a role in pain and inflammation that lead to muscle contractions during a woman’s period. Prostaglandins are believed to cause menstrual cramps.
Secondary dysmenorrhea on the other hand is caused by a pelvic condition that causes pelvic pain like endometriosis or ovarian cysts.
Who’s At a Greater Risk for Dysmenorrhea?
Risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing primary dysmenorrhea include:
- long menstrual periods
- heavy periods
- family history of dysmenorrhea
Having one of the following conditions increases a woman’s chance of developing dysmenorrhea:
- uterine fibroids
- ovarian cysts
- pelvic inflammatory disease
The following types of treatment for dysmenorrhea can help relieve the symptoms of dysmenorrhea and bring relief for your painful stomach cramps and heavy periods:
- taking a warm bath or applying a heating pad to the lower abdomen
- rest; this is especially helpful prior to the onset of menstruation
- over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen
- oral contraceptive pill (hormone therapy)
- laparoscopy: a surgery in which an incision is made in the pelvic cavity so that a camera may examines the area
- hysteroscopy: a process in which an instrument is inserted through the vagina that examines the cervical canal and the uterus
Dysmenorrhea versus Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease in which uterine lining tissue grows on the ovaries, abdomen and pelvic cavity; it is also linked to cramps and pain, and can cause secondary dysmenorrhea.
The exact relationship between the two conditions is unclear.
Dysmenorrhea can be diagnosed through medical tests, such as:
Complications Associated with Dysmenorrhea
While dysmenorrhea is not in itself a serious medical condition, Secondary Dysmenorrhea can lead to fertility and pregnancy problems depending on the underlying cause.
If endometriosis is causing the menstrual condition, a woman can experience infertility. If pelvic inflammatory disease is the root of dysmenorrhea, a woman’s reproductive health can be compromised. In addition, the fallopian tubes can become scarred, which can also lead to ectopic pregnancy.
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