By Iván Ferrer Durbà BSc (biologist & science teacher).
Last Update: 04/08/2014

Acute pain during menstruation, which is called dysmenorrhea, is a problem that affects many women. This pain consists of discomfort such as cramps felt in the pelvic area that can expand to the legs or the back.

In severe cases, this pain may also be accompanied by fatigue, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, stomachache, digestive problems, and general malaise.

There are two main types of dysmenorrhea:

  • Primary dysmenorrhea:it is a natural side effect of menstruation. Women experience primary dysmenorrhea during their period, that is to say, during the menstrual bleeding. Although it is a severe pain, it is not generally associated with any uterine or pelvic disease.
  • Secondary dysmenorrhea: it is caused by some underlying medical condition. It’s, usually, related to a problem of the reproductive tract (endometriosis, uterine fibromyoma, pelvic inflammatory disease, etc). These diseases are usually very painful.

Ovaries and menstruation

Pain associated with menstruation appears mainly in the abdominal area, where the uterus and ovaries are. However, pain or discomfort can spread to other areas of the body such as: colon, rectum, or anus, when urinating, vaginal labia, waist, hips, or coccyx, throat, knees or joints, bones, lumbar region and back, kidneys, ovaries and womb, pit of the stomach and breasts.

Causes of painful menstrual periods

What causes painful menstrual periods? Most of this pain is a natural side effect derived from the menstruation.

Pain is due to the contraction of the muscular wall of the uterus, caused by prostaglandin. This hormone causes inflammation and contractions in the uterus, which are painful and provokes the shedding of the endometrium (commonly known as “bleeding”).

Cephalea during menstruation

Headaches are also common during menstruation or in the days surrounding it. They may be due to the sharp variations of sexual hormones in the blood.

Some experts also associate it with an increase in blood pressure, which occurs to compensate for the blood loss that occurs within the organism. Prostaglandins may cause menstrual headaches as well.

Sometimes, intrauterine devices (IUD) may also cause painful menstrual periods.

Relieve menstrual pain

The less severe menstrual pain can be alleviated or reduced without resorting to the use of drugs through the following measures:

  • Apply heat to the lower abdomen either through a heating pad or hot water bottle and by massaging the affected area.
  • Drink warm liquids.
  • Not eat heavy meals that favor a difficult and slow digestion.
  • Keep your legs elevated when lying down to facilitate blood flow.
  • Do regular and moderate exercise, such as walking.
  • Try relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.

These are some of the tips recommended by doctors in mild cases. In case of severe pain that cannot be alleviated after trying these tricks, you should see a doctor so he can prescribe medication capable of alleviating the pain in a more permanent manner. The medication can include:

  • Antibiotics.
  • Antidepressants.
  • Birth control pills.
  • Anti-inflammatory pills.
  • Prescription painkillers.
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Authors and contributors

 Iván Ferrer Durbà
BSc
Biologist & Science Teacher
Bachelor's Degree in Biology by the University of Valencia (UV). Postgraduate Course in Secondary Education and Teaching by the University of Portsmouth. Teacher of Sciences at multiple British schools and high schools. More information
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