Dysmenorrhea is the term for difficult or painful menstruation. Symptoms usually appear shortly after the onset of menstruation and last about 2 days. Dysmenorrhea affects between 50 and 80% of women, depending on the age group, and about 10% of these women will suffer from more intense pain.
Menstrual pain occurs at the end of the cycle when there is a significant drop in the female sex hormone and an increase in prostaglandin secretion. These hormonal fluctuations cause the uterus to contract more strongly in some, causing pain. Other factors may also contribute to increasing the intensity of menstrual pain including: the angle of the uterus, lack of exercise, stress, etc.
Dysmenorrhea often affects women in times of significant hormonal changes such as adolescence or shortly before menopause.
In most cases, pain is part of the normal process of menstruation and is not the result of a particular issue. Occasionally however, pain during menstruation can occur as a result of another health problem (fibroid, endometriosis, etc.).
The pain associated with dysmenorrhea manifests as cramps or spasms. Pain can range from mild to very intense. For most women, the pain is usually located in the lower abdomen but can also be felt in the back, hips or thighs.
In addition to pain, some women suffer from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, discomfort, headache and vertigo.
Very strong pain can have a negative impact on a woman's quality of life. For some, dysmenorrhea can lead to psychological distress or anxiety and can even cause depression. Dysmenorrhea can also be a cause for absenteeism from school or work.
In most cases, dysmenorrhea is the result of a normal drop in hormone levels. However, if pain does not respond to standard treatment or if intense pain develops suddenly, further investigation may be necessary. Specific tests can be performed to determine the cause of the pain (laparoscopy, ultrasound).
Prevention and treatment
Some measures may help alleviate menstrual pain, including:
- Lying down and resting
- Applying a heating pad or hot water bottle
- Taking a hot bath
- Exercising (stretching, walking)
If these measures are inadequate, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, naproxen) can be used to help relieve menstrual pain. In cases where pain is more severe, one can start taking anti-inflammatories prior to the onset of menstruation and for 2 to 3 days. Contraceptives (oral and IUD) can also be prescribed.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.