Many women suffer from menstrual cramps just before and during their menstrual period, a condition known as "dysmenorrhoea". Dysmenorrhoea may be a source of discomfort for most women, but in severe cases, menstrual cramps may also interfere with daily activities for a few days each month.
Signs and symptoms
Dysmenorrhoea is usually felt as a dull, throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen that can radiate to your lower back and thighs. Other symptoms that you may experience include:
- loose stools
Causes of dysmenorrhoea
Menstrual cramps are believed to be caused by severe uterine contractions that occur during your menstrual period. Severe contractions constrict the blood vessels feeding the uterus causing pain and discomfort. Menstrual cramps can also be due to:
Endometriosis is a painful condition caused by the growth of tissue outside of the uterus, the fallopian tubes, and ovaries or in the tissue lining your pelvis.
Uterine Fibroids are non cancerous tumours or growths in the wall of the uterus.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
PID is an infection of the female reproductive organ caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.
This is a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow into the muscular walls of the uterus.
Dysmenorrhoea may also be the result of cervical stenosis where the small size of the cervix opening may impede menstrual flow leading to increased pressure within the uterus.
If your dysmenorrhoea is caused by an underlying health condition like endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, treatment of any of these diseases may reduce the incidence of menstrual cramps. You may also relieve pain from menstrual cramps by soaking in a hot bath or by using a heated pad or hot water bottle covered with a towel on your lower abdomen.
Natural therapists may also recommend acupuncture where hair-like needles are inserted in the skin at specific points of your body to stimulate the release of brain chemicals that block pain. These are also known as your body's natural pain relievers.
Since calcium is essential for proper muscle function, a calcium deficiency is often linked to muscle cramps, including those associated with menstruation. Aside from including calcium in your diet, consuming foods that are rich in Vitamin-E, thiamin and Omega-3 fatty acids also helps to reduce menstrual cramps. Good sources of Vitamin-E include nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. You can obtain thiamin from whole grains, nuts, fish, pork, dried beans and enriched grain products. Natural sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as herring, salmon, tuna and mackerel, vegetable sources such as kidney beans, tofu, raspberries, broccoli, cauliflower and green beans as well as most nuts and seeds.
Black cohosh (cimicifuga racemosa or squawroot) contains a plant estrogen that is effective in treating menopausal symptoms including dysmenorrhoea. Some studies also suggest that pycnogenol, an extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, may also help reduce menstrual pain and discomfort.