Why do menstrual cramps occur?


Menstrual cramps are a concern of many women who experience them monthly when they have their period. There are different causes that explain them and also several treatments to deal with them.

Menstrual cramp
Why do menstrual cramps occur?

Just as there are women who go through their menstrual cycle without pain, there are also others who suffer period pain regularly. In some cases, this condition can significantly affect quality of life. 

Menstruation is the vaginal bleeding that women present each month in their childbearing age. It is a normal part of the menstrual cycle that, under normal conditions, completes every twenty-eight days.

During menstruation what appears as bleeding is the uterine endometrium. This layer of tissue forms and is shed cyclically within a woman’s uterus. Hormones are actively involved to regulate the monthly process.

When there is pain in menstruation, the clinical term that describes it is dysmenorrhea. The usual presentation is in the form of colic, that is, intermittent pain that appears and disappears rhythmically. Women refer menstrual cramps to the lower abdomen.

Dysmenorrhea is quite common. It is estimated that around 10% of women have moderate pain associated with their menstrual cycle. Moderate pain is considered to be that which interrupts activities of daily life.

The main hypothesis about menstrual cramps is that they are caused by an excessive number of prostaglandins. These substances appear in abundance when the endometrium is about to shed. Their function is to reduce inflammation of the pelvic area and facilitate the contraction of the uterus.

Types of dysmenorrhea

Dysmenorrhea has two forms: primary and secondary. According to the cause of menstrual pain is that you can speak in one way or another.

In primary dysmenorrhea there is no other disease that explains the pain. In general, it is a pain that begins the days before menstruation and lasts for the duration of bleeding. This improves with age and also after pregnancy, although this is not always the case.

The explanation for primary dysmenorrhea is assumed to be provided by prostaglandins. As we already explained, although natural, if they are present in excess, they are capable of causing pain.

On the other hand, we have secondary dysmenorrhea. These cases are caused by other diseases that affect the female reproductive system. It means that another pathology has menstrual cramps as one of its symptoms.

The two most common causes of secondary dysmenorrhea are endometriosis and fibroids of the uterus. The former is more difficult to treat and diagnose, whereas fibroids can be approached clinically or surgically.

Symptoms associated with menstrual cramps

Classic menstrual cramps are colicky, intermittent, beginning two days before menstruation. The usual location is the lower abdomen, but it can radiate to the back.

Along with the pain some women also have:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or changes in bowel rhythm
  • Headache
  • Dizziness and vertigo

Particular situations

Dysmenorrhea is linked to particular situations that women can go through. It is not a pain disconnected from reality and everyday life. By being cyclical and monthly, it responds to certain stimuli.

The studies have recognized that stress is one of the triggers of menstrual pain. In stressful situations, or moments of tension, they become more evident and even more intense.

Smoking is also related. Women who smoke experience more severe and severe menstrual pain. If the habit persists, it can further stimulate the pain.

On the contrary, the practice of sports is a relief for menstrual cramps. Exercise is suspected of improving circulation in the pelvic region, similarly improving pain sensation.

Nor can one rule out the fact that sport releases tension and reduces stress, which would eliminate one of the risk factors.

Treatments for menstrual cramps

There are a number of medications available to treat menstrual cramps when they originate from primary dysmenorrhea. For secondary dysmenorrhea, underlying causes, such as endometriosis or fibroids, must be treated.

Among the drugs indicated are:

  • Contraceptives: the birth control pills regulate the menstrual cycle and relieve pain that may arise. By decreasing the production of prostaglandins, they reduce the effect of these. Many women do not suffer from the condition because they use the pills as a method of contraception, but they are favored by this side effect.
  • Anti-inflammatories: NSAIDs–non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs-are the choice to relieve pain associated with menstruation at specific times.
  • Vitamin supplements: science has not been able to clearly demonstrate the beneficial effect of vitamin supplements in this case. Isolated studies proved that magnesium and zinc could benefit women. Similarly, vitamin B has been studied as a possible adjuvant to treatment.

If you are a woman who suffers from menstrual pain, a medical consultation is essential. The necessary complementary studies will be carried out to find the cause and then a treatment will be established.

Achieving stress reduction and incorporating sports practices is one of the pillars of the approach. Although it is an annoying symptom, it is possible to address it to control it.



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