Dysmenorrhea is defined as ‘painful cramping, usually in the lower abdomen’ that occurs just before and/or during menstruation, ie. painful periods. It is thought to be the most common gynaecological condition that affects women of reproductive age.
What causes dysmenorrhea?
There are two types of dysmenorrhea; primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea is pain unrelated to another gynaecological condition. Whilst the exact cause is unknown, the most accepted theory is that primary dysmenorrhea is caused by an increase in [uterine] prostaglandins – chemicals that are linked to pain and inflammation (as well as sleep and temperature control).
Secondary dysmenorrhea is pain that occurs as a symptom of an underlying condition such as endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease.
What impact do painful periods have for individuals and what are the symptoms?
Dysmenorrhea can have a huge impact on an individual’s quality of life as the pain experienced is often debilitating. Dysmenorrhea can result in insomnia, depression and anxiety, and can also affect relationships, performance at work, physical activity and productivity.
What are the treatment options for painful periods?
The most common treatment for dysmenorrhea is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(painkillers). However, about 15% of women that suffer from dysmenorrhea are intolerant or do not respond to these painkillers, and so sometimes hormonal treatment may be offered.
Lifestyle (exercise & nutrition) factors which may help:
Lifestyle has also been shown to affect the severity of dysmenorrhea. Some easy things to do which may help include:
· Swapping salty snacks and foods high in saturated fat for a portion of fruit, vegetables or unsalted nuts
· Going for a brisk, 30-minute walk on the days that you are bleeding (especially if you don’t feel up to any high-intensity exercise)
· Finding a quick yoga or Pilates-style workout you can do online in the comfort of your own home to get your body moving
Things to avoid include, smoking, drinking alcohol and excess-stress may also worsen dysmenorrhea.