Dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful menstrual cramps that occur every month in a woman’s cycle. Not all women are affected by this. Some experience severe pains while others have no idea of what it is.
“Some women don’t experience any sort of painful periods, while others have so much pain and discomfort that sometimes make them miss work or school,” says Sr. Dr Teresia Nyanchama, a gynaecologist at Gaenacare Hospital Eldoret.
“My menstrual cramps make me so sick that sometimes I have to be admitted to the hospital”, narrates Wendy Ruth, a form three student.
“It comes with nausea, vomiting and sometimes lack of appetite…I remember my mum being called in school one afternoon when my Math’s teacher thought that I was pregnant”, Wendy says laughing.
Shirleen is an amiable second-year student at Moi University shares her journey with menstrual cramps “Mine varies…sometimes it’s not that bad but sometimes. Other times it’s easy and comfortable. I even forget that am in my periods, but sometimes, I diarrhoea followed by a headache. Sometimes I feel as if chunks of flesh are being cut from my lower abdomen, followed by backaches…terrible!” Shirleen narrates.
What leads to Painful Menstrual Cramps?
The most common causes of cramps are the contractions of the uterine muscle.
“Contraction of the uterine muscle helps in shedding of the lining of the uterus, and also to control the amount of bleeding,” according to Dr Teresia Nyanchama. “Prostaglandins are the types of hormones released by the body that leads to the contractions during ovulatory cycles, Although painful periods can also be due to other reasons, like medical conditions and complications,” she says.
Conditions that can cause painful periods include:
- Uterine fibroids, polyps, or abnormal anatomy
- Infections, such as pelvic inflammatory disease
- Endometriosis (when the uterine lining grows outside the uterus into the pelvis or abdomen)
- Cervical stenosis
- Cervical stenosis – This happens when the opening of the cervix is small. So small that it impedes the flow of your menstruation. It then becomes painful as it causes pressure within the uterus.
- Lifestyle Alternatives
Dr Teresia Nyanchama says there are ways that a woman can help a woman manage the pain occasioned by menstrual cramps, “For instance, exercising at least three times per week can decrease menstrual pain, and also improve mood swings. Other ways may include using water bottles and eating food like fish and those rich in vitamin B”
So how do we end the pains?
- Over-the-counter treatment
Menstrual cramps can be treated over-the-counter. These include medicines like acetaminophen, as well as anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
“Anti-inflammatory kind of medication is helpful during menses because they block the production of prostaglandins, which trigger the uterine contractions that cause pain,” Dr Teresia says.
She recommends that women should start taking effective doses of medication as soon as any cramping begins, even if it’s before their period.
If over-the-counter medication does not help in easing menstrual cramps and pain, Dr Teresia recommends seeking further treatments from a doctor who may advise on other management options.