Menstrual cramps are caused by uterine contractions (when your uterus tightens and relaxes allowing blood to leave your uterus). The lining of your uterus releases special chemicals called “prostaglandins.” These substances can increase the intensity of the contractions, especially if the levels rise. High levels of prostaglandins may also cause nausea and lightheadedness. For some women, the discomfort is merely annoying. For others, menstrual cramps can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities for a few days every month.
During your menstrual period, your uterus contracts to help expel its lining. Hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) involved in pain and inflammation trigger the uterine muscle contractions. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more severe menstrual cramps. Severe contractions may constrict the blood vessels feeding the uterus. The resulting pain can be compared to the chest pain that occurs when blocked blood vessels starve portions of the heart of food and oxygen.
Menstrual cramps may also be caused by:
- Endometriosis. In this painful condition, the tissue that lines your uterus becomes implanted outside your uterus, most commonly on your fallopian tubes, ovaries or the tissue lining your pelvis.
- Uterine fibroids. These noncancerous growths in the wall of the uterus may be the cause of pain.
- Adenomyosis. In this condition, the tissue that lines your uterus begins to grow into the muscular walls of the uterus.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This infection of the female reproductive organs is usually caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.
- Cervical stenosis. In some women, the opening of the cervix may be so small that it impedes menstrual flow, causing a painful increase of pressure within the uterus.
Relieving Menstrual Cramps
If you are having crippling menstrual cramps, talk with your health care provider about your options. You may think about taking some type of the over-the-counter medication for one to two days. For most women, the following home remedies help:
- Exercise: Moderate activity such as walking can be beneficial during your period due to the release of endorphins. If you don’t already have a routine, yoga is a gentle exercise that helps prevent or reduce menstrual symptoms.
- Heat: Applying heat on the lower abdomen is one of the easiest ways to help soothe menstrual cramps. Heat helps by relaxing the contracting muscles in the uterus.
- Dietary supplements. A number of studies have indicated that vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1 (thiamine), vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplements may effectively reduce menstrual cramps.
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco. These substances can make menstrual cramps worse.
- Reducing stress. Psychological stress may increase your risk of menstrual cramps and their severity.
It may not be possible to entirely prevent menstrual cramps entirely. However, by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes adequate nutrition, a healthy body weight, control, and exercise may be helpful. We are here to help. Contact us if you have any questions or to schedule an appointment.
(Some information provided by the Mayo Clinic).