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
Some studies also found that obesity and alcohol consumption were associated with dysmenorrhea symptoms like stomach cramps and painful periods, but findings were not conclusive.
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)
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:
- 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
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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