Dysmenorrhea is the medical term given to describe painful periods that are often extreme and debilitating. Many women experience painful periods and cramping along with other symptoms, but the severity can vary between individuals.
I can completely empathise with women who suffer from debilitating period pain as it is something I have experienced much of my menstrual life. Along with extreme pain that often isn’t alleviated by pain medication, it may be accompanied by other symptoms such as extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and back pain.
Dysmenorrhea can be primary or secondary. Primary usually starts in early menstrual life with no underlying cause. Women with primary dysmenorrhoea are reported to produce more than the usual number of inflammatory chemicals (known as prostaglandins) that stimulate contraction of the uterus, which results in pain and cramping. Secondary dysmenorrhoea however may come later in menstrual life and be the result of an underlying issue like endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic infection for example. Management or resolution of these issues may help improve menstrual pain.
Is period pain normal and something we should just accept? Not really, but it is common and there are many factors that may potentially be contributing. In the society we live in women are expected to manage their symptoms and this has led us to see our periods as a burden. In contrast to what we feel we are expected to do (put up with and get on with it), our bodies innate wisdom is often telling us we need to slow down and nurture ourselves.
While this may be difficult to do with life commitments if you do happen to experience painful periods it may be worth considering how you can make your life easier during your cycle. Here are some ideas:
Exercise: keeping active and fit generally with a regular exercise routine is important for everyone and should be incorporated into your lifestyle. However, research on how it helps menstrual pain has been conflicting. The most important thing is to listen to your body. Some women may find a gentle walk or light exercise is better than heavy cardio.
Rest & Sleep: while gentle exercise may help during your period, for some women any exercise may aggravate their symptoms. Listen to your own body. I know when I am in pain, even gentle movement often aggravates and increases the pain and nausea. Being an active and energetic person generally I find my body wants the opposite, especially the first day or two. My pain is telling me to slow down and give myself permission to rest. We’re not meant to be full pace all the time! Use this time to be quiet, get plenty of sleep and nurture yourself with a hot water bottle. Also, where possible manage your diary so that it is less busy around the time of menstruation.
Managing stress: Studies have shown that stress, especially chronic stress, can influence period pain. Finding ways to manage your stress in general is vital. Breathing exercises that involve engaging the diaphragm may help. Also, schedule time in your everyday routine for meditation or mindfulness, exercise that you enjoy or any activity that uplifts you.
Diet: We all know the benefits of a healthy diet and diet has shown to play a role in dysmenorrhoea. Sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, caffeine, saturated fats and hydronated oils can increase inflammation and influence hormone regulation and synthesis worsening symptoms, especially pain, cramping and bloating. You don’t have to cut out these things entirely, but moderation is key. Some women report limiting these foods or what they know aggravates their own symptoms in the week leading up to menstruation to be helpful.
Each woman’s experience of her monthly cycle is individual. Some women never experience pain while other’s may find it impairs their ability to go about their life. Periods, especially extreme pain is something that should be addressed, and it is always best to have your GP investigate and rule out any underlying issues. Additionally, ask your GP, Osteopath or Health Practitioner for advice on how they may help you to manage your pain and symptoms.
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