Dysmenorrhea is the occurrence of painful cramps during menstruation.
More than half of all girls and women suffer from dysmenorrhea (cramps), a dull or throbbing pain that usually centers in the lower mid-abdomen, radiating toward the lower back or thighs. Menstruating women of any age can experience cramps.
While the pain may be only mild for some women, others experience severe discomfort that can significantly interfere with everyday activities for several days each month. In fact, about 43 % of women in the United States suffer pain so severe that it disrupts their daily lives and about 18% miss one or more days or work, school, or other activities each year because of menstrual cramps.
Causes & Symptoms:
Dysmenorrhea is called "primary" when there is no specific abnormality, and "secondary" when the pain is caused by an underlying gynecological problem. It is believed that primary dysmenorrhea occurs when prostaglandins, hormone-like substances produced by uterine tissue, trigger strong muscle contractions in the uterus during menstruation. However, the level of prostaglandins does not seem to correlate with how strong a woman's cramps are. Some women have high levels of prostaglandins and no cramps, whereas other women with low levels have severe cramps. This is why experts assume that cramps must also be related to other causes, such as diets, genetics, stress, and different body types, in addition to prostaglandins. The first year or two of a girl's periods are not usually very painful. However, once ovulation begins, the blood levels of the prostaglandins rise, leading to stronger contractions.
Secondary dysmenorrhea may be caused by endometriosis, fibroid tumors, or an infection in the pelvis.
The likelihood that a woman will have cramps increases if she:
- has a family history of painful periods
- leads a stressful life
- doesn't get enough exercise
- uses caffeine
- has pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Symptoms include a dull, throbbing cramping in the lower abdomen that may radiate to the lower back and thighs. In addition, some women may experience nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, irritability, sweating, or dizziness. Cramps usually last for two or three days at the beginning of each menstrual period. Many women often notice their painful periods disappear after they have their first child, probably due to the stretching of the opening of the uterus or because the birth improves the uterine blood supply and muscle activity, although others do not notice a change.
A doctor should perform a thorough pelvic exam and take a patient history to rule out any underlying condition that could cause cramps.