How Long Do Menstrual Cramps Last?
It is common for many girls and women to have mild pain during their periods for some days each month. These are known as menstrual cramps and clinically they are termed as dysmenorrhea. Dysmenorrhea or menstrual cramps can either be primary or secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is common and cramping pain is caused 1-2 days before your periods in the lower abdomen or belly and lasts for about 2-4 days. Secondary menstrual cramps are caused due to an underlying condition known as endometriosis where the tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside the uterus. This usually causes pain before or during a young woman’s menstrual period.
Causes And Symptoms Of Menstrual Cramps
The menstrual cramps that a woman experiences occur as a result of uterine contractions where the uterus relaxes and contracts to allow blood to leave the uterus; as the muscular wall of the womb contracts it temporarily cuts off the blood supply to the womb. When there is no oxygen supply to the womb, the release of chemicals known as prostaglandins that trigger pain. Prostaglandins are chemicals that are released by the lining of the uterus, which further increase the strength of contractions especially during the first 2-3 days of a woman’s menstrual cycle. These high levels of prostaglandins might also lead to nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. Some people experience more pain than others due to the buildup of prostaglandins, which cause stronger uterine contractions and hence more pain during menstruation.
Symptoms of menstrual cramps include lower back pain and cramping and this pain might be mild to severe in nature. This pain can also be dull to throbbing in range. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and bloating of the belly along with headaches or lightheadedness. All these symptoms range from mild to moderate to severe in intensity and varies from individual to individual.
These menstrual cramps last only a few days and can be managed at home and rarely lead to any complications. It can sometimes be severe and annoying in some cases where it interferes with daily activities for some days each month. If these symptoms are more severe and last for more than a couple days it can indicate some underlying pathology and then it becomes important to seek medical advice and help.
Management Of Menstrual Cramps
For painful menstrual cramps over the counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are given for 1-2 days. If the pain is severe then the medicine should be taken 1-2 days before the period starts. These drugs are anti-prostaglandins and reverse the cramping caused by the release of these chemicals. They help relieve discomfort, decrease menstrual flow and reduce uterine cramps. The over the counter drugs used are ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin. Oral contraceptive pills and other hormonal treatments (such as patch, vaginal hormonal ring, Depo-Provera, IUD and hormonal implants) are also used to relieve cramping and lessen the blood flow. They help by thinning the lining of uterus that decreases the flow of blood during menstruation.
Natural remedies such as applying heating pad on your lower abdomen helps in relaxing the muscles and cramps. A hot water bath also helps in relieving cramps.
Less commonly the menstrual cramps may be caused by some underlying medical condition. It usually affects women in the age group of 30 to 45. These conditions include endometriosis where the normal uterine cells start to grow outside the uterus in the fallopian tubes and ovaries and cause intense menstrual cramps when they are shed during the menstrual cycle. Fibroids (non-cancerous tumors), pelvic inflammatory diseases (womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries become infected with bacteria leading to severe inflammation) and adenomyosis (tissue lining the womb starts to grow in the muscular womb wall) all lead to heavy menstrual blood flow and painful menstrual cramps during menstrual cycle.
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