Menstrual cramps, period cramps. We all get them. We’ve all had our fair share of the painful intensity that they occasionally bring. But have you ever wondered why we get period cramps? What is the purpose of these raging monsters that leave us feeling like an elephant is sitting on our uterus?
The Menstrual Cycle
Your menstrual cycle is one of the most fascinating things about women. Every menstrual cycle shows that you are a healthy woman and capable of bringing another life into the world.
More so, there is more to the menstrual cycle than fertility. According to scientists, period blood is also a source of healing. Approved medical studies reveal that period blood consists of stem cells, which are significant regarding wound healing and other particular diseases. Apart from that, menses are a natural protection against bacteria and other pathogens. Microorganisms can enter the vaginal area in various ways.
At the end of the menstrual cycle, the period blood eliminates pathogens from a woman’s reproductive system as it flows out.
Menstruation comes with several benefits, but we cannot ignore the struggle that comes monthly. How do you deal with period pain? Women experience different period pain levels; thus, every woman may have a unique way of coping. What are period cramps or menstrual cramps, and how can you deal with them the right way?
Menstrual Cramps // Period Cramps
What is Menstrual Cramping?
Menstrual cramps are strains that women experience during the menstruation cycle. Painful menstrual cramps are the result of the uterine line contracting to shed menses.
Some women equate birthing contractions with strong period cramps. During the end of the menstrual cycle (24th – 36th day), the female reproductive system must release the unfertilized egg so that the next cycle begins.
To shed off its lining, the uterine wall must contract to release all the contents. The prostaglandins are hormones that cause the muscle contraction of the uterine walls.
Medical experts state that prostaglandins are hormones associated with inflammation, and this might be the primary reason that menstruation is associated with painful strains.
Therefore, the production of a high level of prostaglandins leads to more menstrual pain.
Women who experienced long or heavy periods are more likely to have severe cramping. Menstrual cramps are no alarms for emergency medical assistance. Understanding your cramps can be beneficial in managing them through various proven remedies.
How painful are period cramps?
This usually feels like tummy cramps that spread to the thighs. It is sometimes intense spasms that are dull or persistent in certain circumstances. Depending upon the time of year, this can vary a lot. Several periods may cause less discomfort, but other periods may cause more pain. Some women compare it to childbirth contractions.
The Causes of Menstrual Cramps
As mentioned earlier, hormone prostaglandins are the primary reason behind menstrual cramping. They are a family group of lipids associated with several important biological processes. They include Prostaglandins E2, D2, F2, and I2. Their production is essential for the muscle contraction of the uterine walls. They are also important factors concerning wound healing, blood flow, and the induction of labor.
Muscle Contraction Near Blood Vessels
Uterine muscle contraction varies in women. At times, the contractions may be so strong that they affect the nearby blood vessels. When this happens, the volume and pressure of blood in the vessels alter, thus interfering with oxygen distribution. The consequence of this is pain due to several points of inflammation.
Typically, irregular periods are common among women. However, most females often experience irregular periods during the first and second years of the menstrual cycle. This is normal and does not require medical attention because the body is still adjusting to the recent hormonal changes.
Irregular periods reduce as women approach 20 years of age, so does cramping. If you do have irregular periods, though it tends to be normal, there is a way to help make your periods more regular thus having fewer symptoms.
According to health experts, consuming excessive alcohol can lead to prolonged cramping during menstruation.
You need to have enough water in your system during the menstrual cycle because your body experiences multiple hormonal fluctuations. Hormonal fluctuations cause disruptions in the digestive system; therefore, there is a need for enough hydration to prevent constipation and other digestive tract difficulties.
Alcohol, in general, dehydrates your body, thereby making you susceptible to cramping or more severe menstrual cramps. It is best to reduce alcohol consumption, more so, completely avoid alcoholic drinks during your menstruation period.
When your period is over the best time to consume alcohol is during your ovulation phase which takes place in the middle of your cycle. You can enjoy alcohol just not when you're trying to avoid menstrual cramps or other menstrual pain.
Hormonal birth control
There has been some linking to hormonal birth control causing severe cramps. Oftentimes when you start a new birth control method, you will have some side effects. Other times, it might be the hormones in the birth control that are causing some severe menstrual cramps and other menstrual pain.
The Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps
Below are the common symptoms associated with period cramps:
- Abdominal pain
- Pain in the lower back
- Headache and Fever
- Decrease in appetite
Note: The symptoms vary in women.
How to Stop Period Cramps
Heat and Cold Compress
Using heat is one of the best solutions regarding how to stop period cramps. Put a heating pad on your lower abdomen and lower back. Heat reduces cramping by relaxing the uterine wall muscles and other muscles involved in the menstrual cycle.
When contraction of the muscles reduces, you experience less pain. A cold compress prevents or reduces the build-up of blood in the pelvic area, thus reducing cramping severity.
Observe Your Diet
You must avoid fatty and sugary foods during your period to avoid those crazy menstrual cramps.
Sugary foods cause a sudden spike and crash the body glucose level, increasing the severity of pain.
Fatty foods are notorious for increasing the production of prostaglandins, thereby causing more muscle contractions.
Fruits are important as they contain antioxidants that fight inflammation.
Leafy vegetables contain iron, which your body needs to replace the iron lost through menses.
Fish and chicken are incredible sources of magnesium and iron. You are going to want to focus on protein and healthy fats during your period to replenish the nutrients you are losing.
Water is one of the most vital needs during the menstrual cycle. It keeps you hydrated, thus reducing menstrual cramps. Water is also essential for eliminating toxins from the reproductive system.
Furthermore, hydration will prevent instances of bloating that cause discomfort. Health experts also state that drinking enough water will help pass out menses quickly. That said, avoid habits that pull water out of your system.
Physical exercises are perfect for curbing bloating, thus reducing menstrual cramps. However, keep in mind that intensive exercises may do more harm than good. Do not strain your back, thighs, and abdomen, as this can worsen the situation.
Opt for less intensive exercises. Following multiple reports of women’s health specialists, the best workouts to do during the menstruation period include light aerobic exercises, stretching, low-impact cardio, and yoga.
Aerobic exercises cause the release of endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that improve your mood and might also relieve headaches.
Yoga workouts reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, which is crucial in suppressing menstrual cramps. Low-impact cardio soothes your muscles without causing strain.
Drink Herbal Teas
Herbal teas have properties that reduce inflammation. For instance, antioxidants are beneficial factors in preventing inflammation. Green tea, for example, consists of catechins.
Ginger tea has compounds that prevent the overproduction of cytokines. Cytokines are signaling molecules associated with inflammatory responses in the body.
Chamomile tea is one of the best solutions for period cramping as it possesses properties that diminish spasms in the body, hence lessening of severe menstrual cramps.
The popular OTC drugs for period pains are ibuprofen and naproxen. They are anti-inflammatory drugs that prevent excessive menstrual cramps by blocking the production of prostaglandins.
It would help if you started taking the drugs a day before you expect your periods. However, ensure that you stick to the prescribed dose to avoid other complications.
For centuries, people have used oils to treat different types of illnesses and health conditions. Today they have been recognized to treat menstrual cramps as well.
Lavender, Clary Sage, as well as Peppermint have been known to be natural cramp remedies. You can see more oil options in our article.
Premenstrual Syndrome and PMS Cramps
PMS is a condition that affects women 4-10 days before they begin their periods. This condition affects more than 90% of women but diminishes at the beginning of or 2 to 3 days after periods.
There is no central cause of premenstrual syndrome. It is a condition that occurs due to a series of fluctuations of the hormones in a woman’s body.
PMS closely associates with mood swings, irritability, and food cravings. Medical experts say that the condition is a consequence of the change of the serotonin hormone. Serotonin is a vital hormone as it affects our moods, feelings, and thoughts. It also affects sleep, bowel movements, and wound healing.
Due to the drop in both your progesterone and estrogen hormones, mood swings are bound to happen. Your period is like starting all over again. Thus your hormones start pretty low as well causing PMS.
The Symptoms of PMS
- Stomach ache
- Tender Breasts
- Mood swings
- Appetite changes
- Food cravings
Risk Factors of PMS
Some women are likely to develop more intense symptoms of premenstrual syndrome compared to others.
- Excessive alcohol consumption is a cause of PMS.
- Women who have mental disorders such as depression and anxiety experience worse symptoms before their period.
- Women with chronic health complications get severe symptoms.
- Ladies in their late 20s and early 40s
- Family history of premenstrual syndrome
- Drug abuse
- Domestic assault
Treatment Options for PMS
Severe cramping contributes to PMS. Therefore, using anti-inflammatory drugs prevent the overproduction of prostaglandins, thus suppressing extreme abdominal muscle contractions. Ibuprofen and sodium naproxen are effective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines.
Exercises relax the body’s muscles, thereby reducing menstrual cramps caused by intense muscle contractions. Physical activities also improve blood circulation in the veins to prevent blood localization and vein pressure, which cause pain. Moreover, some exercises release endorphins, which are hormones that suppress negative thoughts and emotions.
Painful Periods: What causes excruciating periods?
It is one of the popular causes of painful periods. Statistics indicate that 20% of childbearing age women in the United States have endometriosis.
Endometriosis's primary cause is the growth of endometrial tissue outside the uterus: fallopian tube, ovaries, bowel, or pelvic lining. The endometrial tissue thickens, but has no way outside the reproductive system, thus causing pain. Scientists term the phenomenon as retrograde menstruation, where blood flows back into the fallopian tubes then into the pelvic cavity. This causes complications because the blood has no way out of the body.
Symptoms of endometriosis
- Painful periods
- Prolonged cramping
- Pain during intercourse
- Problematic bowel movement
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow inside or outside of the uterus. The masses can vary in size. Women can have one or more fibroids. According to health experts, the primary cause of fibroids is hormonal behavior. Progesterone and estrogen are responsible for developing fibroids during the regeneration of the uterine lining with each menstrual cycle. In other studies, pregnancy is also a common cause of fibroids because during this period, the level of estrogen and progesterone production increases.
Symptoms of Fibroids
- Prolonged cramping
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Pain in the pelvic cavity
- Frequent urination
- Enlarged uterus
- Painful intercourse
- Leg pains
Period Pains: menstrual cramps, PMS cramps, and painful periods
Being a woman has its perks, but as we all know it can come with some mild pain here and there. Let us know your story and how you combat period pain!
DISCLAIMER: This content was written for informational purposes to educate women only. It is not medical advice.