Menstrual periods are light and easy for most teens and young women, but for others, they are heavy and, at times, accompanied by painful cramps. Menstrual cramps are a big reason why girls are absent from school, why they miss sports practice and why they may avoid other social interactions.

It is common for many menstruating girls to have mild pain with their periods before and during their periods. However, if this pain is not relieved with over-the-counter pain medicine and hinders school or doing other things with your friends, you may have “dysmenorrhea” (dis-men-o-ree-a).

What Is Dysmenorrhea (Painful Periods)?

Dysmenorrhea in medical terms means difficult or painful periods. Dysmenorrhea is of two types: primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common kind. Menstrual cramps in the lower abdomen and/or lower back can start 1-2 days before your period comes and last for up to 2 to 4 days. This pain is typically similar from one period to the next and usually starts in adolescence and teen years.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is when the cramps result from a medical problem such as endometriosis or reproductive tract infections. Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the uterus lining is found outside of its normal location. This causes severe pain which increases in intensity with every period, both before and/or during a young woman’s menstrual periods. One needs to see a Gynecologist if the pains affect your daily activities.

Period Pain Causes And Treatment

Uterine contractions cause the cramps you feel due to dysmenorrhea. The lining of your uterus releases chemicals called “Prostaglandins”. These chemicals increase the intensity of the contractions, especially during the first few days of a menstruation cycle. High levels of prostaglandins may also cause diarrhoea, nausea and light-headedness.

Other symptoms of dysmenorrhea

Most menstruating women who have dysmenorrhea have lower back pain and cramps in the lower area of the abdomen during their periods. This pain ranges from dull to throbbing. Some may have symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating in the belly area, and headaches, which can be mild or severe.

Having mild cramps during periods

It is entirely normal to have mild cramps during your periods because of uterine contractions. Since, the uterus is a muscle that tightens and relaxes, these contractions can cause jabbing or cramp-like pain.

Menstrual cramps are more likely to occur in cycles in which you ovulate, and your prostaglandin levels are higher. But you can also get cramps from your first periods even when you are not ovulating.

If you have cramps that are severe and interfere with your daily activities, don’t ignore what your body is trying to tell you. Make an appointment with your gynaecologist because there might be more serious reasons for your pain.

Treatment for dysmenorrhea

Anti-inflammatory medications: If your period cramps are painful, you may want to take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication for 1-2 days of your period. If your pain is severe, you can start taking it as soon as your period starts. These medications are anti-prostaglandins, meaning they stop the cramping effects of prostaglandins. They make your flow lighter, relieve discomfort and cause your uterus to cramp less. Remember to take this medication after consulting your health care provider.

Hormonal treatment: Oral contraceptive pills or OCPs, also known as birth control pills, and other hormonal treatments like vaginal hormonal rings, IUD and hormonal implants are prescribed because hormones thin out the lining of the uterus, which lessens blood flow and cramps.

Home treatments for easing the pain

Using a heating pack on your lower abdomen can help. Ensure that the pack is not too hot as it can burn your skin.

Soaking in a warm bath can also help relieve cramps

Acupuncture can also be used as a complementary therapy to cure dysmenorrhea.

Regular exercise and Yoga have also proved to relieve menstrual cramps for many.