Cramping Your Style
The cramps that accompany your menstrual period are felt in the pelvis and abdomen. While cramps can be painful they are quite normal and should not be thought of as a symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), though women with PMS do often experience cramps. The opposite is also true: women with cramps often experience PMS, as well.
Menstrual cramps may be very mild and almost unnoticeable in some women. They may not last long, either. For some women, the feeling is perceived as a kind of heaviness in the flanks and abdomen. But for other women, menstrual cramps are so severe a symptom that they may prevent a woman from participating in her usual activities for several days in a row.
But not all women experience cramps. Some women never do experience this menstrual symptom. Experts believe that half of all menstruating women will experience cramps to one degree or another. Of those women who do have cramps, 15% characterize their cramps as “severe.” When teens were surveyed, over 90% of them said they get cramps during their periods.
The medical term connoting menstrual cramps is “dysmenorrhea.” There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea is the presence of cramps with no known gynecological issue as cause. This type of dysmenorrhea occurs in young girls from around 6 months to a year after menarche (first period). This is because young girls don’t ovulate during the first several periods. Cramps only begin once a girl begins to ovulate.
Secondary dysmenorrhea will be found to occur as the result of a gynecological condition that brings on menstrual pain. While this type of pain may even begin with the menarche, this is not usual.
The menses (menstrual period) is what happens when a woman’s egg fails to be fertilized and no pregnancy occurs. Period blood consists of the products of a failure to become pregnant: the uterine lining (endometrium) is shed. As this shedding occurs, chemicals called prostaglandins are excreted. Prostaglandins trigger contractions of the uterine muscle. As these contractions occur the circulation of the blood moving to and inside of the endometrium is constricted. During contractions, oxygen is unable to reach the tissues of the endometrium. This lack of oxygen leads to the deterioration and death of the uterine lining.
As this tissue death takes place, the contractions of the uterus help expel this tissue from the cervix. The bloody tissue is then expelled from the vagina. Another chemical, Leukotrienes, are involved in the body’s inflammatory responses. Experts believe that leukotrienes may also play a part in causing period cramps.