Premenstrual Tension | Period Cramps - A Comprehensive guide
Not many people know about premenstrual tension and period cramps, but they, unfortunately, experience them each month. Psychology studies show that premenstrual tension affects up to 90% of all women. With so many women experiencing premenstrual tension and period cramps, it's time we talk about the science behind premenstrual tension, the symptoms, and how to combat them. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about premenstrual tension and period cramps, including symptoms and home remedies.
What is Period Cramps (Menstrual Cramps)?
Period Cramps are a common occurrence for many women, causing a throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen. It often occurs before and during menstruation. For some women, menstrual cramps are uncomfortable but not intolerable. For others, the pain can be severe enough to significantly impact their lives for a couple of days per month.
Miscellaneous problems such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids can be a precursor to menstrual cramps. They're able to cause pain, but it's important to treat the cause to relieve symptoms. Menstrual cramps that aren't caused by some other health issue will probably decrease as you get older and are often resolved after pregnancy.
When a girl's first period happens around 10-12 years old, it can take up to six months and sometimes even longer for menstrual cramps to start. They usually come and go during the first few years, but they become more persistent as the endometrium becomes thicker in preparation for ovulation.
What are the symptoms of Period Cramps?
Some symptoms of period cramps include:
- A throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen that can be intense enough to interfere with your daily life.
- A pain that begins 1-3 days before your period start, peaks at the onset of your period, and then lessens 2-3 days later.
- Having a dull and continuous sting.
What are the causes of Period Cramps?
Period cramps can be 'primary' or 'secondary'. Usually, primary dysmenorrhea, a medical term for painful cramps, is period pain caused by the period itself. Secondary dysmenorrhea usually has a different cause such as an underlying health problem like endometriosis. This article will focus more on primary dysmenorrhea.
Period cramps are predominantly caused by an excess of prostaglandins, a hormone-like molecule released from the endometrium as it prepares for shedding. Prostaglandins help maintain the uterine lining (endometrium) by contracting and relaxing so that it can detach and flow out of your body. They are an important part of the process, but too much might cause problems if the uterus strongly contracts itself and blood flow is reduced. You will lack oxygen in your muscle tissue, leading to pain.
Many people's periods are painful because of heavy or long bleeding, early age at menarche, or irregularity. Period cramps can also be caused by the following:
- Endometriosis - Tissue that acts like the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus, typically on fallopian tubes, ovaries, or in other parts of your pelvic cavity.
- Uterine fibroids - A noncancerous growth in the wall of the uterus itself that can cause a lot of pain.
- Adenomyosis - The tissue that lines the uterus and which can grow and transform into the muscular walls of the uterus.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease - A sexually transmitted bacteria that may infect the female reproductive organs.
- Cervical stenosis - For some women, the opening of the cervix can be too small which may impede menstrual flow and increase pressure in the uterus.
What are the risk factors of Period Cramps?
Some women might be at risk of period cramps if they:
- Are younger than the age of 30.
- Bleed heavily during their periods. This is known as menorrhagia.
- Have irregular menstrual bleeding.
- Have a family history of period cramps. This is known as dysmenorrhea.
What are the complications associated with Period Cramps?
The pain can range in severity and but they don't typically cause any other medical complications. They can indeed be quite disruptive making it difficult to go to school, work, or socialize.
Though the majority of women having period cramps can manage it without any major difficulties, some may experience certain complications. For instance, endometriosis can lead to infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease can result in scarring of the fallopian tubes.
What are the treatments for Period Cramps?
Here's a list of treatments that will help ease your period cramps:
Pain relievers - Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), can help to control the symptoms of menstrual cramps. If you are not having relief with these over-the-counter remedies, your doctor may prescribe something stronger like prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Start the medication at the start of your period as soon as you feel any symptoms. And continue taking medicine as directed by your GP for 2 to 3 days until the symptoms are gone.
Hormonal birth control - Birth control pills contain hormones that prevent ovulation, reduce severe period cramps, and also lighten periods. These hormones can come in several different forms: skin patches, injections, implants lined under the arm’s skin, or the vagina as a flexible ring.
Surgery - If period cramps are caused by a disorder like endometriosis or fibroids, surgery might help and should be considered. Uterine removal also might be necessary if other methods fail to relieve your pain and if you're unlikely to become pregnant again.
Period Cramps - Homecare and Remedies
Apart from getting enough sleep and proper rest, the following might also be helpful:
- Exercise regularly - A good physical activity, including sex, helps ease period cramps for some women.
- Heat - Having a hot bath or using a heating pad on the lower abdomen can help to reduce pain.
- Dietary Supplements - Taking vitamin B-1, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids supplements might help to reduce period cramps.
- Stress Reduction - Psychological stress has been linked to menstrual cramps and can increase the severity of their symptoms.
What is Premenstrual Tension (Syndrome)?
Premenstrual tension, also known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a monthly recurring pattern of symptoms that are likely to start around a week before your period. They usually fade away within 4 days of your starting period. The emotional and physical changes that a woman can experience during premenstrual tension can go from slightly noticeable to intense.
Still, when battling premenstrual tension, we should remember that it is not a hopeless case. There are many treatments and lifestyle adjustments that can help manage this condition and reduce the emotional and physical changes.
What are the symptoms of Premenstrual Tension?
Signs and symptoms of premenstrual tension (syndrome) can be variable, but most women only experience a handful of them. Namely:
1. Behavioural and Emotional Symptoms
- Mood Swings | Anger
- Tension and Anxiety
- Change in appetite
- Insomnia ( Difficult falling asleep)
- Lack of concentration
- Lido change
- Crying spells
2. Physical Symptoms
- Muscle and joint pain
- Weight gain due to fluid retention
- Breast tenderness
Some period cramps can be intense enough to interrupt your daily life and make you feel emotionally and physically unwell. The symptoms will normally disappear within 4 days after the start of the menstrual cycle regardless of the severity. However, a small percentage of women with premenstrual tension (syndrome) can have disabling symptoms every month. This form of premenstrual tension is known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
What causes Premenstrual Tension?
The exact factors that cause premenstrual tension in each woman are unknown. This is because each woman differs from the other, but several factors can contribute to premenstrual tension. They include:
Cyclic changes in hormones - Signs, and symptoms of premenstrual tension changes according to hormonal fluctuations and disappear when you're pregnant or after menopause.
Chemical changes in the brain - A decrease in the hormone serotonin may be one of the reasons for premenstrual tension. Low levels of serotonin may cause symptoms like fatigue, food cravings, depression, and mood swings.
Depression - While some women may ignore premenstrual tension as a common form of depression, they may not be aware that the severity of this disorder is quite different. This can lead to undiagnosed depression, even though depression alone does not cause all of the symptoms associated with this condition.
How to treat Premenstrual Tension?
Lifestyle changes can help ease premenstrual tension symptoms. However, your doctor might also recommend taking medication depending on how serious the problem is. It is important to recognize that individual people experience relief differently. Medications commonly prescribed for premenstrual tension include:
Antidepressants - Some women with PMS may need to take antidepressants only for a limited period each month. For some of them, they may limit the intake to only two weeks before their menstruation. Medications such as paroxetine and fluoxetine can help to reduce negative mood swings and depression.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - Taken before or on the onset of your period, you may find relief using over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). They can help to reduce cramping and discomfort in the breast area
Diuretics - Rather than turning to pills, eating less salt and exercising more should help limit fluid retention. If not, a water pill like Spironolactone can reduce your waistline by getting rid of excess fluid through the kidneys.
- Hormonal Contraceptives - These prescription medications can stop ovulation, which may help with premenstrual tension.
Premenstrual Tension (syndrome) - Homecare
Managing premenstrual tension can be difficult, but these tips may work:
- To help you feel less bloated and to reduce the sensation of fullness, have smaller, more-frequent meals.
- It is important to limit salt intake as well as salty foods. This will help with bloating and fluid retention.
- Eat foods that contain complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid simple carbs such as white bread and sugary drinks.
- Your body requires a certain amount of calcium. If dairy products are hard for you to digest or if you're not getting sufficient calcium from your diet, consider taking a daily supplement.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption.
- Make sure you get active or exercise daily.
- Reduce stress by getting plenty of sleep or by practicing progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises such as yoga.
- Taking vitamin supplements such as vitamin B-6, vitamin E, calcium and magnesium has all been proven to ease premenstrual tension.
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