Menstruation is a normal and regular event in a woman’s life. Some women, however, have severe pain. Painful menstruation is called dysmenorrhea.
What is Dysmenorrhea/Menstrual Pain?
Menstrual cramps are often described as a dull ache or a sense of pressure in the lower abdomen. Sometimes they come and go, growing stronger and then fading. Sometimes they are a constant, dull ache. The discomfort may spread to the hips, the lower back, and the inner thighs. The vagina or the uterus may ache and feel heavy. When cramps are severe, nausea, vomiting, pain, or general achiness can occur along with the pain. Sometimes these symptoms can occur even if the cramps are mild.
Normal Sources of Menstrual Pain
The uterus is a muscle. Like all muscles, it contracts and relaxes. The contractions are caused by prostaglandins, natural substances in the walls of the uterus. During strong contractions, the uterus may begin to contract too strongly or too frequently. The blood supply to the uterus is cut off temporarily. This deprives the muscle of oxygen, causing pain.
Abnormal Sources of Menstrual Pain
- Endometriosis – A condition in which tissue similar to the tissue that lines the uterus is found outside of the uterus, usually in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic structures
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) – An infection, like chlamydia, in the fallopian tubes and nearby pelvic structures
- Fibroids – benign masses in the uterine muscle that grow and may cause pain or bleeding
Most menstrual pain syndromes can be treated effectively with NSAIDS like ibuprofen or through hormonal regulators like birth control pills.
When pain is unamenable to medication, sometimes a laparoscopy is performed to look directly inside lower abdomen to identify a source of pain. This involves surgery and requires anesthesia.