What do period cramps feel like?

Let’s face it, no one looks forward to the cramping that comes along with their monthly cycle. Not only are period cramps painful, but they can interfere with your daily life. Fortunately, period cramps are very common and are generally easy to treat. Managing symptoms associated with monthly periods get easier as we age, or when we have children. Over time, we learn what works for our bodies and what doesn’t work. Our monthly cycles do not have to interfere with our daily lives with the proper tools provided.

What are period cramps?

Period cramps are pains that are generally in your lower abdomen and occur during and around the time of your period. They can feel like a dull ache or a throbbing pain. Cramps are caused by having an influx of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemicals that are inside of your uterus. These chemicals make the muscles in your uterus contract and relax. As women get older or have children, their periods begin to be less painful or even have no cramps at all. 

Why period cramps happen

Prostaglandins are compounds that are responsible for helping your uterine lining shed during your period. Prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract and relax to get rid of the built-up lining. Period cramps are caused when too many prostaglandins are released and cause painful contractions, reduced blood flow, and loss of oxygen to the uterus. The shedding of the uterus lining is the period blood.

Certain factors may cause women to have more painful periods than others if they have:

- Heavy Periods that require tampons or pads change more frequently than every 2 hours.
- Long periods lasting more than seven days
- Had their first menstruation early in life, usually before the age of 12 but as early as 8 years old 
- Under the age of 30
- Smoking cigarettes
- A history of frequent pelvic infections

Can period cramps be a sign of something else?

Cervical Stenosis
Cervical Stenosis is the narrowing of the cervical opening. In some rare cases, the cervix could even be closed. During a woman’s cycle, their cervix prepares for the possibility of pregnancy. During ovulation, a woman’s cervix is low and open. Because the cervix is not being able to open or being narrow, it can cause a harder time getting pregnant or even cause infertility. In rare cases, Cervical Stenosis can cause your uterus to fill up with blood or pus and there is no ability to relieve it on its own. This could be painful and cause cramping.

Endometriosis
Endometriosis is when the same tissue lining that grows on the inside of your uterus, grows on the outside of your uterus. It is usually very painful and can affect your ovaries and Fallopian tubes as well. It affects about 2 to 10 percent of the female population. Endometriosis is often mistaken for heavy periods but doctors can do a physical exam and an ultrasound to determine if this is the cause of heavy bleeding and cramping.

Ovarian Cysts
It is quite possible that at some point, almost every woman has experienced an ovarian cyst. Usually, they are not painful and go away on their own in a few months. However, some ovarian cysts can be painful and even rupture. Every month our ovaries produce a cyst called Follicles. These grow and produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These follicles are released during ovulation. However, when a follicle does not release it properly it can cause harmful cysts such as Dermoid cysts and Cystadenomas.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection that occurs in a woman’s uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries. If untreated it can lead to painful abscesses. Symptoms of Pelvic inflammatory disease include abnormal vaginal discharge, pain in the abdomen, and pain during sexual intercourse.

Uterine Fibroids
Uterine Fibroids are noncancerous tumors that occur on the lining of your uterus. They are made up of muscle and connective tissues. Fibroids do not always need treatment and can go away on their own. However, it is possible fibroids continue to grow and cause pain and heavy bleeding. It is important to check with your OBGYN if you think you may have uterine fibroids to determine the best treatment for you.

When Period Cramps aren’t normal 

- Cramping that lasts more than 2 or 3 days
- Causes issues in your daily life
- Pain Management doesn’t work
- Pelvic pain not during ovulation or period
- Pain that feels different than normal period pain in the past
- Cramping that causes extreme nausea
- Cramping accompanied by a high fever

Tips for managing period cramps

Heating Patch
Heating patches are great for relieving cramps. One patch can provide 12 hours of continuous relief. Heating patches also help increase blood flow to your uterus, and relax muscles. They can even be worn on your lower back as well. It is important to note that heating patches are not suggested to be worn while sleeping.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture has become increasingly popular in the past 10 years. They provide a natural holistic approach to common health issues. Acupuncture relieves pain, nausea, and headaches associated with periods. This process uses small needles on various pressure points to stimulate blood flow through the nervous system. This process is generally painless and many women find it quite relaxing. If you experience pain during acupuncture, be sure to let your acupuncturist know so they can adjust the pressure point.

Herbal Tea
Research has shown that tea provides natural relief to cramping as an alternative to over-the-counter medications. Ginger tea is an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. Studies have shown that it is often as effective as over the counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories.

Magnesium
Magnesium is commonly referred to as the “nature’s relaxant” because of its ability to relax muscles in the uterus. It works by reducing prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are what cause period cramping. The suggested dose of magnesium is between 200 and 400mg. If taken daily it can reduce stress, help with symptoms of PCOS and prevent period pain.

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