When that special time of the month hits, many women experience mood swings, bloating, and mild cramping with their period. If you’ve never complained to a girlfriend about the aches and pains that accompany periods, consider yourself very lucky. Period pains are common among adolescents and adult women. In fact, the majority of women experience discomfort during menstruation. That being said, unbearable cramps that prevent you from going to school or work are not normal. Severe period cramps are usually a sign that something else is wrong and should be investigated by a doctor. So, how do you know if your period pains are normal?
What causes menstrual cramps?
Menstrual cramps are caused by uterine contractions (the tightening and relaxing of your uterus). Every month, the uterus prepares itself for pregnancy by growing a thick lining that has a rich blood supply as it waits for an embryo to implant. If an embryo does not implant, meaning you are not pregnant, the body produces a period. During your period, the uterine muscles contract so that the blood vessels in the uterus can open and the uterus can shed its thick wall. These contractions are triggered by 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.
Cramps in the lower belly and/or lower back can start 1-3 days before your period and usually subside after 2-3 days.
How can I manage period pain?
If you’re having menstrual cramps, talk with your parents or health care provider about your options. Over-the-counter medication is available to treat most cases of menstrual cramps.
Anti-prostaglandins help relieve the discomfort, make your flow lighter, and cause your uterus to cramp less. Look for over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Take this medicine when you first start to feel pain and continue taking it every 4-6 hours or as prescribed by your doctor. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and take the medicine with food to avoid upsetting your stomach. Always carefully read the label to see how much and how often you should take the medication.
If you’re a good candidate for it, a physician may prescribe hormonal birth control pills to prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. Birth control pills work by thinning the lining of the uterus, where the prostaglandins form. This reduces cramping and bleeding.
Placing a heating pad on your abdomen or taking a warm bath can also relieve uncomfortable cramps. Some find that increasing their physical activity helps and others find that resting quietly for short periods of time helps, so listen to your body to cater to what it needs during this time. Be sure to eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol, caffeine, fatty foods, and high-sodium foods during your period.
What are signs that my period pain isn’t normal?
If you experience any of the above signs, you could have:
Many women experience uncomfortable period pain every single month. Even if it’s not due to an underlying condition, simply having horrible pain can be addressed. Your period is never going to be enjoyable, but it should be bearable. Speak with your doctor if you experience severe cramping during your periods or think you may have another underlying health condition.