How to Get Rid of Menstrual Cramps? (Guide)
Menstrual cramps are one of the most common conditions affecting women. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP), a whopping 81 percent of women have reported having symptoms of Dysmenorrhea, or menstrual cramps.Everything about menstrual cramps and how to get rid of it?
Unfortunately, it is precisely because menstrual cramps are so common that so many women and their treatment providers gloss over the need for effective treatments. Cramping is painful! It is also life-limiting and, often, life disrupting. Abdominal pain and discomfort can impact work performance, family time, enjoyment of hobbies, intimacy, exercise and sports and just about every other area of life.
In this article, learn what you need to know about menstrual cramps and effective remedies that can get you back to feeling better quickly.
Dysmenorrhea Causes, Signs & Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Prevention
Dysmenorrhea symptoms can arise for a variety of reasons. However, if you are like many women, you may not realize there are other medical triggers beyond the simple reappearance of your period each month.
For this reason as well as for reasons of general comfort, it is important to learn more about the various causes for menstrual cramps, the signs and symptoms, different types of dysmenorrhea, how it is diagnosed and whether menstrual cramps can be prevented.
Types of Menstrual Cramps
There are two main types of menstrual cramps: primary and secondary.
Primary menstrual cramps typically begin to occur within 12 to 24 months of a woman's first menstrual cycle and continue throughout the reproductive years. Primary menstrual cramps typically last between one and three days near the start of the monthly cycle.
Secondary menstrual cramps arise as a result of another issue in the woman's reproductive system.
Causes of Menstrual Cramps
According to the Mayo Clinic, menstrual cramps can be caused by simply having a period, but they can also be caused by a number of other medical conditions that may require further evaluation and treatment.
One way to tell regular "common" menstrual cramps apart from other conditions is that when the cause of the cramps is purely related to your monthly cycle, they should only occur at a specific time each month, and typically at around the same time each month.
In contrast, cramps that are associated with underlying medical issues may occur all month long and be accompanied by other symptoms as well.
Here are some of the most common reasons why menstrual cramps may arise:
Monthly menstrual cycle
This is by far the most common reason why menstrual cramps appear. As part of your monthly menstrual cycle, cramping is most likely to occur only at a certain point each month, which is at the point when your uterus begins to cramp to expel the lining that would only have been needed if you had become pregnant. Here, cramping tends to only last a day or two.
When the tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow on the outside of the uterus, it can affect the uterus itself, the fallopian tubes, the pelvis and/or the ovaries. This condition is called endometriosis. It can interfere with conception and cause quite a bit of pain and cramping in the abdominal area.
Uterine fibroid tumors
Uterine fibroid tumors grow either outside or inside the uterine wall. These tumors are generally benign and tend to be fairly common in women who are still getting their menstrual cycle (pre-menopausal). While most cases are painless, in certain cases heavy bleeding and cramping can make the condition quite painful.
In this situation, the lining of the uterus starts growing into the muscle of the uterine wall.
Certain women may have an unusually small opening in their cervix, which makes up the lowest portion of the uterus. During the monthly menstrual cycle, having such a small opening can cause the menstrual discharge to flow out more slowly and with increased pressure, causing pain and cramping.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
PID is a reproductive system infection that is often caused by the presence of an underlying STD (sexually transmitted disease).
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
A relatively rare condition related to tampon use is called toxic shock syndrome. Here, the use of the tampon itself can give rise to abdominal cramping, high fever (above 102°F), diarrhea, fainting, sunburn-like rash and/or vomiting. TSS requires immediate emergency medical attention.
Signs & Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps
While dysmenorrhea is often referred to as "cramping," it actually includes a number of additional symptoms beyond just the cramps.
Here is a list of commonly reported dysmenorrhea symptoms:
- Lower back, hip and thigh-area pain
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- Stomach upset
- Dull ache throughout the abdominal and lower back area.
- Mild to intense muscle contractions in the abdominal area.
- Mild to intense pain and pressure
At their core, all of these signs and symptoms are instigated when the uterus starts its contraction process during the normal monthly menstrual cycle. The more intense the contractions are, the more pressure is applied to the surrounding blood vessels and the more likely it is that blood supply will be temporarily cut off. As noted in this symptom list, this temporary loss of oxygen causes additional pain and symptoms beyond simply the muscle contractions themselves.
Diagnosing Menstrual Cramps
The process of diagnosing the reason for menstrual cramps requires determining whether the menstrual cramps are within the normal and reasonable limits for monthly menstrual flow or if they are more continual or severe and could perhaps be pointing to an underlying medical condition.
Initially, your physician will ask you to describe your symptoms in detail. You may also be asked to keep a lot of when your symptoms start and stop, how long they last, how severe they become and what you did/ate/drank just before they start each time.
You will also be asked to give a personal and family medical history during your appointment. This will help the doctor determine if you have a family history of certain health conditions related to your reproductive system or a history of severe menstrual cramps.
During your medical history, be sure to mention to your doctor if any of the following applies to you:
- Your menstrual flow began before you turned 12.
- You are younger than 30 and have never given birth.
- You experience heavy bleeding or irregular periods.
- You smoke.
- Your family history includes difficult or painful menstrual cycle symptoms.
Your doctor will also want to do a pelvic exam to look at your cervix, uterus and uterus to detect any possible issues such as the presence of uterine fibroids.
Based on what your doctor learns during your initial appointment, further tests may be needed to rule out or confirm the presence of an underlying health issue in your reproductive system that may require further treatment.
Prevention of Menstrual Cramps
There is no known way to completely prevent menstrual cramps. Some women simply have a family (genetic) history of dysmenorrhea, which requires learning to effectively manage symptoms throughout the reproductive years.
However, there are practical ways you can ease symptoms associated with common menstrual cramps, as the next section here will highlight.
Effective Treatments to Ease Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea
Treating menstrual cramps typically focuses on alleviating symptoms rather than eradicating the cramps themselves. Since common primary menstrual cramps are associated with the monthly menstrual cycle, there is currently no known way to completely avoid ever having them again.
However, these treatment approaches can provide significant relief:
Keep a cycle log
By keeping a log of your monthly cycle, you can learn to identify "prime time" each month when menstrual cramps are more likely to arise. This will allow you to take a proactive, preventative approach before the cramps begin.
Avoid alcohol, tobacco and caffeine
Each of these can cause a cramping effect on muscles and blood flow construction, which can make symptoms of menstrual cramps worse.
Get regular exercise
Over the counter NSAIDs
Taking over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen can ease the physical discomfort of cramping muscles.
Application of heat is a time-honored method for loosening up muscles and reducing the intensity of cramps. You can use a heat pack, heating pad, hot water bottle or a warm bath to find relief.
Whether in the form of the Pill, a vaginal ring, a patch, an under-skin implant, an IUD (intrauterine device) or an injection, taking hormonal birth control can ease menstrual cramps by working to regulate your monthly hormone cycles. This can be an especially beneficial approach for women who have severe menstrual cramps due to continual fluctuation of hormones.
If you are suffering from secondary menstrual cramps due to an underlying health issue in your reproductive system, you may need to have surgery to correct the problem. For women who want to conceive, having endometriosis or uterine fibroids removed will both lessen menstrual cramps and make it easier to conceive. If you do not wish to have children or have already completed your family, you may consider having your uterus removed.
Acupuncture and acupressure
Research shows that stimulating certain key pressure points on the body may be helpful to relieve the cramping associated with the monthly menstrual cycle.
Eat more foods that contain potassium
Bananas, white beans, blackstrap molasses, fish, dried fruits and dark leafy greens all contain potassium, a mineral that can reduce muscle cramping.
Maintain a healthy diet and body weight
Fried and fatty foods and foods that are high in salt and sugar can contribute to muscle constriction and contraction. Eating too much of these foods can also cause weight to increase, which often introduces additional health issues that can exacerbate the discomfort of the menstrual cycle.
Take in more omega-3 fatty acids
Also known as fish oil, you can take omega-3 fatty acids in supplement form as well if you prefer.
Menstrual cramps affect each woman differently. Some women have few if any issues with cramping during their reproductive years, while other women may experience severe and ongoing symptoms each month starting with the onset of their period.
Boost your vitamin and mineral intake
By taking more Vitamins D and E plus an increased dose of magnesium and calcium citrate, you improve muscle tone and fight the pain and inflammation that can arise during your monthly cycle.
Drink herbal tea
Chamomile tea is a natural relaxant which can ease muscle contractions in your uterus as well as calm the rest of you down. Raspberry leaf herbal tea can have a similar effect. Cinnamon and fennel are both natural anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory herbs that can be taken as a tea with a bit of local honey.
For this reason, it is so important to pay attention to your body and take any discomfort, cramping or other symptoms seriously. Since menstrual cramps share a set of symptoms with other more serious reproductive health and medical conditions, you should monitor your symptoms closely and seek out medical attention if you feel the need.
I hope this article has provided you with more insight into how and why menstrual cramps occur and what you can do to ease the discomfort they may cause. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them for us in the comments section here!