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Painful periods (Menstrual cramps)
Menstrual cramps are no strangers to women. While some may experience only mild discomfort, some may suffer from painful periods that can interfere with their daily activities. At least one in four women has such cramps that they are unable to perform their normal activities.1

The pain usually begins in the lower abdomen/pelvis and may extend to the lower back, inner thigh or hip.2 Menstrual cramps are different from premenstrual syndrome. Menstrual cramps usually start shortly before menstrual bleeding begins, then peak within 24 hours after the start of the bleeding, and subside after a day or two.2 In addition, the cramps might be accompanied by other symptoms such as headache, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea, and frequent urination.

What causes menstrual cramps?

In young teen girls, the main cause of menstrual cramps is excessive secretion of the hormone prostaglandin.2

Prostaglandin causes increased contraction of the womb muscles, thereby leading to the cramps. You may also feel that the cramping is intensified when pieces of bloody tissue pass through the cervix.2 This condition is usually not a serious illness, even though the cramps can be severe.

The diagnosis is usually made by the woman herself and it very much depends on her individual perception of pain. However, in older women, menstrual cramps may be a sign of certain diseases such as uterine fibroids and endometriosis, which require medical attention.2

How to relieve menstrual cramps

To relieve mild menstrual cramps, placing a heat pad on your belly or taking a warm bath may help. Other ways to relieve or reduce menstrual cramps include regular exercise, adequate rest or sleep, abdominal massage, yoga and orgasmic sexual activity. There are also pain medications to relieve and prevent menstrual cramps.2

Overall, a woman's menstrual cramps do not worsen during her lifetime. In fact, menstrual cramps usually diminish with age and after pregnancy.2 If you find yourself experiencing intolerable cramps, it is advisable to see your doctor to check whether there is an underlying condition contributing to the pain.

References

  1. Grandi G, et al. J Pain Res 2012;5:169–174.
  2. MedicineNet.com. Menstrual cramps. Available at: http://www.medicinenet.com/menstrual_cramps/article.htm. Accessed 29 September, 2015.