The medical term for painful periods is called dysmenorrhea, and it’s one of the most common menstrual disorders. It affects over half of menstruating women for at least one day over the course of a period.
There are two types of dysmenorrhea.
What we usually think of as menstrual cramps. The cramping usually starts right before you begin to bleed, and subsides as you shed the uterine lining. Primary dysmenorrhea typically starts when a young woman is just beginning to menstruate, and oftentimes becomes less painful as she gets older.
Characterized by more severe and longer lasting pain, caused by a problem in the reproductive system. It might start a few days earlier than your period or continue after your period ends.
What Causes Secondary Dysmenorrhea?
There are several reproductive disorders that can cause painful periods.
These are growths on the walls of the uterus that can be surgically removed.
The endometrium is better known as the inner lining of the uterus. When the endometrial cells also grow outside of the uterus, such as on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or bladder, this is called endometriosis. The endometrial tissue bleeds in response to hormones, which can form scar tissue called adhesions if these cells are outside the uterus. Adhesions disrupt your pelvic organs and cause pain.
In this condition, the endometrium starts to grow into the muscular tissue of the uterus, causing inflammation in the uterus as well as painful, heavy periods.
If you’re having painful periods, please make an appointment with us. Many women take their painful periods in stride, believing that cramps are just part of the process. If your pain is severe and it’s interrupting your day, it is not considered normal. We can perform an exam and evaluate your condition, and hopefully put you on the path towards more comfortable periods.
Some treatment options include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs), such as over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen, target prostaglandins which cause primary dysmenorrhea. You can take them for 1-2 days at a time, however, long-term use may have health risks. Talk to us if you have asthma, bleeding disorders, allergies, liver damage, ulcers, or other stomach disorders, as NSAIDs may not be right for you.
Hormonal birth control
The pill, patch, ring, and hormonal IUD have all been used to successfully treat painful periods, especially those caused by endometriosis. These treatments help regulate your body’s hormones and ease some of the more unpleasant effects of menstruation. Talk to us about your family planning needs so we can find the right treatment for you.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists
This is another type of hormone therapy that is helpful for treating endometriosis, but they’re not typically given as a long-term solution. They can cause side effects like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and bone loss, and are usually only recommended in extreme cases.
Some women have found that taking a vitamin B1 or magnesium supplement can ease painful periods. Others report success with acupuncture. However, these haven’t been widely studied by the medical community as treatments for dysmenorrhea.
Uterine Artery Embolization
Generally performed on an outpatient basis, this procedure blocks uterine blood vessels with tiny particles in order to stop the growth of uterine fibroids.
Surgical removal of uterine fibroids
This is performed through a small incision either through the vagina or abdomen, depending on the location of the fibroid.
Surgical treatment of endometriosis
This usually relieves pain in the short term, but it does not prevent the endometriosis from returning. Fortunately, the re-growth of tissue can be delayed with hormonal treatment.
Complete removal of the uterus is typically performed only as a last resort.