The menstrual cycle is a monthly hormonal cycle that a female body goes through. The menstrual cycle comes in three main phases: follicular, ovulatory, and luteal.
The follicular phase starts with the first day of your period and continues until ovulation. The ovulatory stage is the shortest, lasting around 24 hours while the egg travels from ovaries. It’s followed by the luteal phase. The luteal stage is when most women start experiencing PMS symptoms together with cramps.
Menstrual cramps and slight discomfort that last up to a few days before or during menstruation are normal. Around 85% of women experience cramps during their periods. However, when over-the-counter pain medication doesn’t help and period pains start to interfere with your daily life, it might signal a bigger problem.
Painful periods are also called dysmenorrhea. It’s a condition when a person experiences cramps and discomfort during menstruation. Dysmenorrhea is categorized into two types.
- Primary dysmenorrhea is what most women experience at least once in their lives. It comes with menstruation and lasts for a couple of days. Increased prostaglandin levels cause primary dysmenorrhea. These are the hormones that make the uterus contract during menstruation or induce labor.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea occurs when a person didn’t have period pains before and suddenly developed them.
What signs you should look for:
- Cramps that interfere with your daily activities. Up to 29% of women report period pains that disrupt their lives.
- OTC pain medication doesn’t help to alleviate discomfort;
- Abnormal pain, such as in between periods, sharp stabbing pain, painful intercourse;
- Severe cramps that last longer than a few days or even after the period;
- Pains followed by heavy bleeding;
- Irregular periods.
Causes of painful menstruation
If you have always had moderate cramps during your period, you most likely don’t need to worry. However, if you suddenly feel discomfort or severe aches lasting longer than usual, you might have one of the conditions below.
Endometriosis is a common culprit for extremely painful periods. Endometriosis occurs when uterine lining starts to grow on other parts such as ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel, or bladder. It causes sharp and acute pain in the pelvic area, which spikes during menstruation or vaginal intercourse. Other symptoms also include heavy periods, bowel problems, infertility.
Fibroids are tumors lumps that form on the uterus. Many women have fibroids, and in many cases, they don’t cause any symptoms. However, large fibroids can cause pelvic pain and heavy bleeding during menstruation. You might also experience abdomen ache, painful vaginal intercourse, and increased urination. While the reasons why women develop fibroids vary, many doctors believe it can be due to excess of estrogen or progesterone.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection caused by sexually transmitted bacteria. When a woman catches it, she might experience fever and chills, pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic area. Pains increase during intercourse or menstruation. While symptoms are often too mild to notice, you need to be careful and seek medical attention soon. Otherwise, the infection can cause infertility or chronic pelvic pain.
It’s a condition in which the uterus' inner lining breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. Often the condition doesn’t cause much trouble, but women who have it report discomfort and severe cramps during menstruation, heavy bleeding, and bloating.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
PCOS is a common condition among reproductive-age women. One of the main symptoms of PCOS is heavy, irregular, and painful periods. Since there’s no cure for it, many women choose hormonal birth control or natural methods to reverse the symptoms and reduce discomfort.
Birth control method
Although hormonal birth control is often prescribed to treat period-related problems, some of the methods might increase your chances of dysmenorrhea. An intrauterine device (IUD) is a plastic or copper instrument inserted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. After insertion, some women experience severe period cramps and heavy bleeding, especially in the first few months.
Here are the conditions and signs to look for, but what can you do to reverse your symptoms and befriend your period?
How to cope with menstrual cramps
Start by identifying the cause
Mild cramping at the beginning of your period is normal, but if you notice that pains get worse or interfere with your daily life, you might want to check in with your doctor. However, many women don’t feel like seeking medical attention because of the ignorance in the medical community.
It’s still common for doctors to either misdiagnose painful periods or prescribe hormonal birth control, which doesn’t solve the underlying issue, but rather disguise the symptoms. Even if your doctor refuses to dig deeper into the problem, don’t be afraid to get a different opinion and request proper medical attention.
Hormonal birth control is still a go-to solution for period pains. Certain hormonal contraception methods can help relieve discomfort, regulate menstruation, and reduce bleeding. Most popular methods include the combined pill, vaginal ring, patch, or a hormonal IUD.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also prescribed to treat difficult cramps as they reduce the number of prostaglandins the body produces and lessen their effects.
Natural ways to relieve pain
Severe menstrual cramps are often followed by a heavy period. Together with blood, you lose vital vitamins and minerals. Therefore, you might need to supplement or naturally increase your vitamin B intake, together with magnesium, calcium, and copper. These minerals help to keep your hemoglobin stable, support liver function, and relieve PMS symptoms.
Your meals should contain enough healthy protein, carbs, and fat to support your body and provide it with enough fuel, as you need more energy to run a healthy menstrual cycle. It’s also recommended to avoid dieting or fasting during your period because it can increase stress in the body.
I understand that exercising during a period, especially a painful one isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind. But trust me, light physical activity can go along the way of reducing pain and even shortening your menstruation. Yoga, walking, some easy pilates exercises can boost your mood, increase metabolism, and move hormones.
What I wouldn’t recommend is heavy exercises and extended periods of cardio. Strenuous physical activity, especially during your period, puts your body under stress. You want to avoid that as your body then struggles to absorb all the minerals and nutrients it needs to regulate menstruation.
Stress management and relaxation techniques
During the luteal phase, it’s better to put challenging projects on hold and avoid heavy exercise. It’s time for solitude and relaxation. You may find it helpful to go to sleep earlier, perhaps do some meditation or yoga before heading off to bed. A lot of women also alleviate period cramps with massages. Belly rubs and massages stimulate blood flow and relieve muscle tension.
Heat pads and warm baths
For as long as history itself, women have lived with menstrual pain, and for a long time, heating pads and warm water have been there to help. To this day, many women choose to hold onto heating pads and warm baths to relieve severe cramps. Heat relaxes muscles and improves blood flow. However, if you choose a warm bath, it’s recommended to avoid staying in for too long or in very hot water as it might increase bleeding.
Menstrual hygiene products
Not many women know that period hygiene products can affect their menstrual cramps. Chemicals in pads and tampons might make your period worse. That’s why Genial Day ditches toxic ingredients and strives to deliver a scientifically proven solution to better period care. Our customers swear that Genial Day pads with the FAR-IR anion strip reduce discomfort and skin irritations during menstruation. The special FAR-IR Anion technology promotes microcirculation, reducing cramps, and lessening uncomfortable symptoms.
Taking care of yourself and your body should always be a priority. Paying attention to the way your period and menstrual cycles are can help you understand your health better. I often say that the menstrual cycle is a mirror to your health, and when something is off, it will tell you. Having severe period cramps might make it more difficult to befriend your menstruation, but it’s a chance to learn more about your body.