Painful periods? It could be dysmenorrhea

Menstrual cramps for a couple days during each cycle are common, but not all pain is normal.

What is dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is another term for pain associated with the menstrual period, also known as period pain. It often involves period cramps that can be felt in the lower abdomen and/or lower back.

“Many women experience menstrual cramps for a couple of days during each cycle — but not all pain is normal,” said Rosemary C. Sousa, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton Women’s Care. “If you have painful periods, it’s important to discuss this with your provider so we can figure out what’s causing it.”

What is the main cause of dysmenorrhea?

There are two types of dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by a chemical imbalance due to the body producing too much of a hormone called prostaglandin, which makes the uterus contract in order to shed its lining. This type of period pain often can be treated with basic pain relievers or lifestyle changes. Secondary dysmenorrhea is related to cramping caused by an underlying health condition, such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids.

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How painful is dysmenorrhea?

Period pain can range from mild, dull cramping to deep or sharp pain that can keep a person from being involved in their regular activities. Painful periods shouldn’t interfere with your daily life or cause a person to miss work or other obligations. Discuss your symptoms with your OB/GYN so they can help you find relief from this common menstrual disorder.

How do you treat dysmenorrhea?

Over-the-counter pain relievers that can help with period cramps by targeting prostaglandin production include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Heating pads also may provide some relief.

Birth control — birth control pill, patch, vaginal ring, implant or injection, or an intrauterine device (IUD) — can be an effective method for treating painful periods.

Incorporating healthy lifestyle habits also may help reduce cramping. This includes incorporating regular exercise and stress-reducing activities plus getting adequate sleep each night.

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