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How to Put a Crimp on Cramps

Every month, it’s the same question. Will your menstrual period be quietly uneventful or will you experience the discomfort of abdominal pain? While some pain during your period is normal, including occasional back pain, a large amount of pain is not.

Dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful menstrual periods, is the leading cause of lost time from school and work among women in their teens and 20s. For many women, painful periods make it difficult to do normal household, job or school related activities a few days during each menstrual cycle.

You can’t change the fact that you will be having a menstrual period for years to come, but you can change how these monthly visits affect your daily life.

The more you know, the more you can affect the effects of your periods. So now’s the time to get informed…before next month rolls around.

What Causes Menstrual Pain?

Painful menstrual periods fall into two groups, depending on the cause:

Primary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that occurs around the time that menstrual periods first begin in otherwise healthy young women. In most cases, this pain is not related to a specific problem with the uterus or other pelvic organs.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that develops later in women who have had normal periods. It is often related to problems in the uterus or other pelvic organs, such as:

  • Endometriosis
  • Fibroids
  • Intrauterine Device (IUD)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
  • Sexually transmitted infection
  • Stress and Anxiety

How Can you Treat Menstrual Pain at Home?

Before going the prescription medicine route, you can often control menstrual pain in a variety of ways:

  • Heat and massage. Apply a heating pad to your lower belly area, being careful not to fall asleep with the heating pad on. Do light circular massage with your fingertips around your lower belly.
  • Diet. Drink warm beverages and eat light but frequent meals.
  • Rest. Keep your legs raised while lying down, or lie on your side with your knees bent.
  • Relaxation. Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.
  • Over the counter anti-inflammatory medicine. Medicines, such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Pamprin, Motrin) or acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) provide relief to 70-90 percent of women.
  • Vitamin and Supplements. Vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium supplements may relieve pain, especially if your pain is from PMS.
  • Hormonal Contraceptives. Often birth control pills, the patch, a vaginal ring, injections, an intrauterine device (IUD) or implant may decrease menstrual flow and reduce uterine cramping. Factors such as underlying medical conditions, plans for pregnancy and desired menstrual bleeding pattern should be considered when selecting the proper option.

What Symptoms Require Medical Attention?

For women who continue to have pain, further investigation for the cause of the pain may be necessary. Your doctor may consider a pelvic ultrasound and/or laparoscopy. A laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgery in which small incisions allow a camera in a thin tube to be inserted in to the abdomen. The procedure would then enable the surgeon to look for scar tissue or endometriosis. If an ultrasound scan reveals a fibroid or an ovarian cyst, your doctor may recommend removal of the cyst or fibroid, or medications.

When dealing with menstrual pain, it is important to seek medical assistance when the following symptoms occur:

  • Fever and pelvic pain
  • Increased or foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Sudden or severe pain, especially if your period is more than one week late and you’ve been sexually active
  • You have pain and had an IUD placed more than three months ago
  • Treatments do not relieve your pain after three months
  • You pass blood clots or have other symptoms with pain
  • Your pain occurs at times other than menstruation, begins more than five days before your period or continues after your period is over

Mild menstrual pain can be a manageable symptom of your monthly period. It can be a time to take it easy, taking comfort in the fact that it’s all part of being a woman. However, when it’s too painful, it’s time to take charge. Whether it’s care you can do at home, or professional medical care, you have the power to live pain-free…every day of the month.

To make an appointment with a doctor specializing in women’s health, visit or call 321.841.5560.

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