We all know the pain of sharp, stomach-twisting cramps that sometimes come with a particularly heavy period. For some women, these cramps become overwhelming enough that they’re bedridden for a few days. It’s a condition known as dysmenorrhea and can be quite devastating to a woman’s emotional and physical well-being.
Dysmenorrhea causes menstrual pain that is pervasive and almost unmanageable. The discomfort is not just limited to cramping. Some women experience excruciating pain in their thighs or lower back, and others experience symptoms such as lightheadedness, nausea, constipation, dizziness, and headaches. Dysmenorrhea is also sometimes accompanied by abnormally heavy blood flow (which is known as menorrhagia), a potentially dangerous symptom that can lead to excessive blood loss and anemia. If you are experiencing a very heavy blood flow, you should talk to your doctor to make sure you are not in any danger.
Women with dysmenorrhea might have to call in sick to work, skip important family functions, and otherwise miss out on life because their symptoms are so severe. In fact, it is actually rated as one of the top reasons why young women miss school, and it seems to strike adolescents more than it does adults. Up to 90 percent of young women suffer from symptoms of dysmenorrhea, while only 25 percent of adult women do. Thankfully, there are treatments available.
Get a clear diagnosis. First, it’s important to get the proper diagnosis. There are two different types of dysmenorrhea. The first is primary dysmenorrhea, which describes the condition in which a woman is suffering from painful cramps without any underlying cause. Many young women experience primary dysmenorrhea within six months after their first period. Treatment for primary dysmenorrhea varies and should be discussed with your doctor. Both heating pads and pain relievers such as ibuprofen[w1] have been shown to be effective in treating primary dysmenorrhea. Physicians also find that hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill might be effective in treating the unpleasant symptoms, particularly if the dysmenorrhea is accompanied by menorrhagia (heavy blood flow). Hormonal contraceptives can help to lessen blood flow, ease cramps, and otherwise decrease the pain of menstruation. However, hormonal treatments come with strong side effects and risks, so you need to weigh those risks and benefits carefully with your doctor.
Find out if there is an underlying cause. The second kind of dysmenorrhea is secondary dysmenorrhea, in which there is an underlying medical condition that causes the menstrual pain. Some conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhea include endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and pelvic congestion. Secondary dysmenorrhea differs from primary dysmenorrhea in that it generally occurs later in life. Treatment for secondary dysmenorrhea also differs in that the underlying condition (e.g., endometriosis or cysts) requires treatment as well. Intrauterine devices may lead to secondary dysmenorrhea if the IUD is made with copper and the woman’s body does not accept the device well. Alternatively, the IUD can also be used as a treatment for both primary and secondary dysmenorrhea, as the hormones can help to modulate cramps and lessen pain.
If you think you might suffer from either primary or secondary dysmenorrhea, talk to your doctor to find out what your options are and to ensure that your health isn’t at risk. No period should be so painful that you are bedridden for days at a time. Listen to your body and call your doctor if you think something might be wrong. Help is available!
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