Most women at some time or another have experienced menstrual cramps. The 28 day cycle for you menstrual period begins sometime in pre-teen or early teen years, and continues until you reach menopause.
The main purpose of your menstrual cycle is for fertile women to reproduce. It is under control of the endocrine system and increasing or decreasing hormones cause the lining of the uterus to shed causing a menstrual flow. It then, thickens to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy.
The shedding of the lining of the uterus releases a hormone called prostaglandin. This hormone causes a contracting of the uterus, which causes the releasing of the menstrual flow and menstrual cramps.
Menstrual cramps symptoms include:
- Pain in the abdomen that can feel like pressure, aching or severe pain. It can be felt in your lower back or pelvic areas, as well.
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Loose stools or constipation caused by the releasing of the hormones, which cause smooth muscles to contract. The smooth muscle, like the uterus muscle, is also found in the intestinal tract.
- Headaches which is also affected by the changing of the hormones.
- Emotional imbalances caused by the fluctuating hormones.
In some women menstrual cramps are extremely severe, this is called dysmenorrhea. The causes for dysmenorrhea can be unrelated to an underlying gynecologic problem, this is called primary dysmenorrhea. If there is some underlying abnormality with the reproductive system, it is called secondary dysmenorrhea.
There are some factors that can influence the intensity of cramps. If a woman has anatomical factors such as a tilting of the uterus or a very narrow cervical canal the cramps can be intensified. Emotional stress and lack of exercise can also cause the pain of menstrual cramps to be increased.
The treatment for menstrual cramps is dependent on what works for you. Pharmaceutical approaches, that can all help relieve the pain, include: getting enough rest and sleep, exercise, or a heating pad applied to your abdominal area. There are many non-prescription pain relieving methods such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or ketoprofen. Prescription medication may be needed, if the pain is extremely severe, and includes mefenamic acid and meclofenamate.
Another option for women who are suffering from severe cramps is oral contraceptives or birth control pills. These pills contain estrogen and progestin and prevent ovulation. They help reduce the release of prostaglandins, and thereby, lessening the severity of the menstrual cramps and menstrual flow.