Period Cramps: What are the causes and how to manage them?

Period cramps are associated with periods and most often cause pain and discomfort. During periods, one might experience cramp-related pain between two to five days a month. However, not everyone experiences these pains every cycle. The severity and consistency of the cramps can vary for each individual.

Dysmenorrhea, aka menstrual cramps, is usually caused due to fibroid cysts, endometriosis (lining of tissue outside the uterus instead of internal growth) which causes severe pain, pelvic inflammatory disease (a type of infection in a female reproductive organ), adenomyosis (swelling in the uterus). The cramps may occur at the beginning of the menstrual cycle, during the full cycle, or during the mid-cycle.

Other causes of period cramps may include:
● Adhesions: This is the buildup of collagen and other proteins in the uterine wall. This can occur either during pregnancy or after childbirth, and it can lead to excess blood flow and pressure in the back. If one is experiencing period cramps, it could be due to the adherence of the uterus to bowel and bladder walls.

● Stress: Period cramps occur when muscles are stressed beyond what they’re normally meant to withstand. This can happen at any time, but it’s more common during times of high stress, such as during exams or pregnancy.

● Excessive movement: Some women experience period cramps during sudden movements, like commuting in an airplane or train due to the jerks. This is because the blood flow to the uterus is so high in these types of movements that the uterus is put in a “C” shape against the spine, which can cause compression and spasms in the muscles.

Pay attention to the intensity of cramps
While some cramps are minor and easily resolved with a glass of hot milk, others can be quite painful and require a higher level of attention.

● One should always seek immediate medical assistance if one experiences a cramp that’s particularly severe or lasts longer than 30 seconds.

● If women experience severe cramps, they should consider taking a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), which one can buy over the counter. This helps with some of the acidity that builds up in the stomach during periods, but it won’t completely manage the acidity.

● Some herbal and vitamin supplements can help with the frequency of cramps, but that doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

● If one experiences dysmenorrhea even after taking painkillers or if cramps last for more than a few days, one may want to consider seeking medical help to identify underlying cause.

Lifestyle choices that may help reduce period cramps
While there may be some genetic variation that leads to experiencing fewer periods each cycle, this is not the case for everyone. In general, if a person is physically active, the chances of experiencing period cramps are lesser. Consuming a balanced diet including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins rich, fiber, and folate, plays an important role. Also, reducing the intake of sugar, processed foods, and alcohol plays a major role in helping reduce period cramps.

Further to this, undergoing seed therapy, staying hydrated, practicing stress-reducing techniques, and using heat therapy (heating pad or warm showers) can also help reduce period cramps. Married women who are obese and are experiencing painful cramps can do yoga which not only acts as physical activity but also gives mental calming and helps for destressing.

Medical treatment options
An ultrasound is recommended in identifying the cause of dysmenorrhea and the treatment can be prescribed based on the cause. Dysmenorrhea is usually treated with painkillers and hormonal pills. But, depending on the identified cause, the treatment for fibroid cysts, adenomyoma cysts, and endometriosis can be carried out either with a surgical procedure that acts as a permanent solution to dysmenorrhea.

Period cramps can also be treated through hormonal treatment which requires consuming pills, taking injections, or inserting an Intrauterine Device (IUD) that contains hormonal levonorgestrel into the uterus.

Period cramps are a type of cramp that one may experience around the period. They’re caused by contractions of the uterus, and they occur when the body is trying to push out blood. These cramps are common and usually get better on their own once a woman has finished menstruating. However, they may get stronger cramps the second time around if one does not manage them well. One can reduce the intensity and frequency of cramps by managing the diet, having a good night’s sleep, and keeping muscles relaxed. It is important to seek medical help if the intensity of cramps is higher than usual and one is unable to withstand the severity of the pain.

Article by Dr Karthiga Devi,
MBBS, MS, Obstetrician & Gynecologist,
Apollo Cradle & Children’s Hospital, Chennai

Comments are closed.