By now, you must have lost count of how often you have been told that your worst menstruation symptoms—heavy flow, menstrual cramps, headaches, and chronic exhaustion that make you dread your periods are just a part of being a “woman.”
As per medical statistics, at least one in every four women experience menstrual discomfort and pain. Painful periods also known as dysmenorrhea clinically, are defined by cramping pains in the lower abdomen.
However, the range of this pain widely varies from woman to woman since periods are uniquely personal experiences. Some women can find their pain annoying and mild enough to get relief just through natural home remedies. On the other hand, women have compared the intensity and trauma of their period pains to a stroke and slipped disc.
Painful Periods - A Brief Overview
There are two types of dysmenorrhea - primary and secondary dysmenorrhea.
- Primary Dysmenorrhea
This refers to the period pains caused by a rise in the number of natural hormones known as prostaglandins in the lining of the uterus and not any external conditions. Prostaglandin makes the muscles and blood vessels of the uterus contract and relax to result in menstrual cramps. On day one of the period, prostaglandin levels are usually at their highest, but as the days go by, the uterine lining sheds itself, and the pain reduces.
You usually start having period pain when you are younger, just after getting periods. Most women notice that their menstrual cramps get better with age. Often, the period pains cease altogether after pregnancy since the childbirth stretches the uterus, dilates the cervix, and eliminates the major prostaglandin receptor sites in the uterus.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea
This is caused by disorders that impact your uterus and other reproductive organs, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. This usually starts a few days before your menstrual periods, continues to worsen throughout the period, and at times does not leave even after the period ends.
If you notice that your period pains refuse to subside even after the first two to three days of the period and you always need pain medication to make the pain go away, you are suffering from dysmenorrhea.
Crippling menstrual cramps can even interfere with your performance in everyday activities, leading to reduced productivity in school, university and workspaces. Overall, significantly lower life quality is observed among women who have painful periods.
But gone are the days you put up with all the discomfort and confusion and suffer in silence. Say hello to this RIO special guide on dealing with your painful periods and turning them into happy ones.
What Leads to Painful Periods in Women
Women who reach their menarche at a very early age are at a much higher risk of having menstrual cramps before reaching age thirty. Alongside, women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding or menorrhagia that lasts for over eight days are also more likely to have painful periods. Having an irregular menstrual cycle and smoking are among the other top risk factors of menstrual cramps.
Let’s take a look at what causes painful periods:
- Endometriosis - When the tissues that line the uterus (endometrium) or uterus come out of the uterus to get implanted on other female reproductive organs like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and even the bladder, it’s known as endometriosis. These tissue pieces usually break down and bleed during your period to cause pain. There’s also a tendency for scarring or uterine adhesions to form, making the organs stick together and trigger more pain. Untreated endometriosis can cause the formation of chocolate cysts in the ovary - cysts filled with blood that lead to painful periods as well.
- Premenstrual syndrome refers to the symptoms experienced by women in almost a week leading up to their periods. Due to the drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, you might have menstrual cramps, acne breakouts, changes in appetite, weight gain, and fatigue. Then, there is the premenstrual dysphoric disorder - a more severe version of PMS in women with high-stress levels, depression, and a family history of trauma. Its symptoms include more severe and painful periods.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome - This hormonal condition results in enlarged ovaries with cyst formation on the edges. PCOS onset usually goes hand-in-hand with uncomfortable symptoms such as severe cramping and heavy periods. As the PCOS progresses, your menstrual pain also exacerbates and your menstrual cycle becomes more irregular.
- Uterine fibroids - Fibroids refer to benign growths that can develop multiple places of the uterus - the inside, outside, and the walls. These tumours can result in pelvic pain as they press onto the vital blood vessels in the uterus. The larger fibroids are usually responsible for increasing the blood flow and the severity of menstrual cramps.
- Adenomyosis - Similar to endometriosis, in this condition, tissues that line your uterus start to travel and extend into the muscle walls of the uterus. As a result of this abnormality, the uterus is enlarged more than average and causes pain and heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - This is a bacterial infection that primarily affects the fallopian tubes, but even the cervix, uterus, and ovaries can fall victim to PID. The inflammation causes pain in the abdomen caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Use of Intrauterine device (IUD) - After inserting a non-hormonal copper IUD, you can experience heavy menstrual bleeding and intense cramps in the first six months. The IUD releases copper and creates an inflammatory environment in the uterus.
- Uterine defects - Defects in the uterus such as the presence of a fibrous tissue band bisecting the uterus or two uteri leading to one cervix can lead to period pain and infertility.
- Ectopic pregnancy - If the fertilised egg fails to reach inside the uterus and instead gets attached to the endometrium, an ectopic pregnancy occurs. The most common symptoms of this pregnancy are severe pain and bleeding.
- Cervical stenosis - Here, the extremely narrow opening of the cervix obstructs blood flow during a period and results in increased pressure in the uterus to cause painful menstrual cramps. Usually, cervical stenosis is a genetic condition, but it can be triggered as a complication of other disorders as well.
- Menopause - Sometimes, menstrual pains worsen during menopause because of fluctuations in the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle. When the period doesn’t come in the initial few months before menopause, you might experience intense pains.
- Weight gain - Weight gain causes an increase in the release of oestrogen by the fat cells, and this oestrogen dominance leads to more frequent, painful, and heavy periods.
What Are The Primary Painful Period Symptoms That Women Struggle With
The symptoms or warning signs that characterise painful periods are:
- A dull and constant aching pain in the lower abdomen that may turn severe suddenly
- A combination of spasmodic and congestive pain
- Menstrual cramps that spread to the inner thighs, hips, and lower back
- A feeling of pressure in the abdomen
- Experiencing throbbing pain or intense cramps in your uterus during the menstrual period
- Passing out of blood clots and tissues with heavy menstrual bleeding
- Digestive issues such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhoea
Turning Painful Periods into Happy Ones - What’s The Secret?
Lifestyle choices can either harm or help your menstrual cramps, let’s see how to deal with painful periods and menstrual cramps by making the correct choices.
- Hydrate -It’s essential to keep yourself hydrated by drinking at least eight glasses of water in a day, especially during your period, to avoid bloating, which can worsen menstrual cramps. Caffeine constricts the blood vessels in the uterus and causes cramps. Replace your caffeinated drinks with herbal teas like ginger, fennel, and chamomile tea which have anti-inflammatory properties to reduce muscle spasms in the uterus.Warm water or hot beverages can work wonders for period cramp relief as the heat leads to better blood circulation. Menstrual cramps can be relieved naturally by drinking chamomile, fennel, or ginger tea. Herbal teas may also provide stress relief and aid in the treatment of insomnia.To meet your hydration goals, you can even drink fruit-infused water green smoothies and eat water-based foods like cucumbers, lettuce, watermelon, and berries.
- Eat healthy -During the menstrual cycle, your body loses iron. Thus, you should eat iron-rich foods like eggs, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds to replenish the iron levels and prevent anemia. You can consider taking dietary supplements to get your fix of vital minerals and vitamins like magnesium, calcium, manganese, vitamins E & D that alleviate inflammation to make your periods less painful. According to medical researchers, young girls who took vitamin B1 and oil reported a significant reduction in their menstrual cramps. To ensure long-term positive results, take supplements throughout the month and not only during your periods.You must fight your cravings for refined foods like brownies and french fries as the high trans-fat, sugar, and salt content leads to bloating, fluid retention, and inflammation which increases the intensity of your menstrual cramps.Anti-inflammatory foods can prove to be your best companion for painful periods as they promote blood flow to ease your painful periods.
Some anti-inflammatory foods that you should add to your diet :
- Spices like turmeric and garlic
- Leafy green vegetables
- Bell Peppers
- Fatty fish
- Walnuts and Almonds
Cinnamon can prove to be very helpful in relieving menstrual pain and other menstrual symptoms. To experience its benefits, you can take cinnamon capsules or even sprinkle some cinnamon in your meals and hot drinks.
Research shows that with their healing and antispasmodic properties, fennel seeds can inhibit the uterine contractions caused by prostaglandins.
Fennel seeds usually contain potent phytochemicals, including phytoestrogens, which can calm your menstrual cramps. They regulate the female hormones and reduce water retention as well. You can consume the fennel seeds raw, use them in desserts or soak them in water and drink the detox beverage.
Ginger capsules have helped ease menstrual cramps and symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea. Ginger contains zingibain - a potent natural enzyme that protects your body from inflammation by stopping the production of prostaglandins.
- Apply heat -Applying heat to your belly and lower back can help relieve tension in uterus muscles and increase blood flow. A 2018 systematic review study discovered that heat therapy could be as beneficial in getting rid of menstrual pain as NSAIDs. You can sit with a hot-water bottle, heating pad, take a hot bath or use warm towels. If you lack a heating pad, you can make one of your own by filling a hot sock with uncooked rice, microwaving it for two to three minutes, letting it cool a little, and then applying.
- Maintain hygiene -It’s essential to take care of your menstruation hygiene by bathing and washing yourself regularly with a gentle cleanser to remove the excess blood that may result in infection.
- Exercise- You are usually curled up into a ball inside the blanket when the menstrual cramps hit you, and any physical activity or exercise is the last thing on your mind. However, you are unknown to the fact that exercise, even walking, gentle stretching, and yoga releases endorphins - the natural feel-good hormones. These hormones relax your abdomen muscles and decrease menstrual pain.In a research study, women who practised yoga for an hour once a week for three months felt less period pain than those who did not do any yoga
- The yoga poses that are helpful for menstrual cramps and PMS are :
- Cobra pose
- Child’s pose
- Cat-cow pose
- Plank pose
Complementary therapies - Nerve stimulation therapies like acupressure and acupuncture reduce pain during periods by stimulating your body and helping you relax
- Massage therapy with a skilled naturopath/acupuncturist will involve pressing trigger points around your stomach, back, and sides for period pain relief. Adding a lavender, peppermint, or rose essential oil for an aromatherapy massage can also be helpful. A recommended and safe concentration is one drop of essential oil per one teaspoon of carrier oil like sweet almond oil.
- Manage stress - Stress and lack of sleep can make your periods more painful because, in a state of stress, the body cannot regulate its inflammatory response. That is why it’s necessary to adopt healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, such as meditation, deep breathing, and listening to calming music.
Melatonin - the hormone that controls our sleep patterns can effectively reduce chronic menstrual pain and enhance ovulation. Try to establish and stick to a night routine to improve your sleep quality and have regular periods.
- Over-the-Counter Medication - At the onset of painful cramps, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can ensure temporary and fast-acting relief by decreasing the prostaglandin levels in your body. Since these medicines can irritate the stomach, always take them after consultation with your doctor.
- Contraceptive pills - Birth control pills, patches, and hormonal IUDs can help with menstrual cramps if an imbalance in hormones triggers the cramps. Hormonal birth control provides relief from painful periods by ensuring a regular menstrual cycle. The medicines prevent the uterus lining from becoming very thick and facilitate a light menstrual flow.
If you’ve tried all the things listed above and still have persistently painful periods, you must get a physical exam done by a doctor to eliminate the possibility of underlying health issues.
If the doctor feels that your symptoms are too severe to be dealt with by only medication, you can explore surgical options to remove fibroids and endometriosis tissues. Hysterectomy is the last resort for extreme adenomyosis cases since it is the permanent removal of the entire uterus and cervix that puts an end to your fertility.
How talking about periods and doing away with the stigma can help
Millions of women and girls worldwide have periods every month, but the stigma around menstruation dating back to the older centuries still exists. The negative feelings of embarrassment and shame that periods bring are often internalised at an individual level and can influence the healthcare system’s ability to address menstrual health challenges.
Why is there so much fear around a little red stain? The topic of menstruation is commonly hushed, avoided, and replaced with ambiguous code words in conversations such as “monthly visitor” or “mother nature.”
According to some studies, most women admit to hiding the fact that they were on their period numerous times in their life, be it by wearing clothes that ensure a leak wouldn’t show on heavy flow days or hiding their pad on their way to change in the bathroom. A high percentage of women have also limited their social interactions by cancelling plans due to painful periods.
The lack of basic menstrual education in rural areas prevents women from accessing the necessary menstrual products and toilet facilities. Stigma can prove to be highly dangerous for menstruators, especially those experiencing painful menstrual cramps and heavy menstrual bleeding.
As long as they are uncomfortable talking about their pain, they will struggle to understand their symptoms and take necessary action to manage them. Over 50 percent of women fail to make others take their period pain seriously.
The first step to tackling menstrual stigma is empowering women to learn more about their body's menstrual flows and identifying what’s normal for them in periods. Only continuous education and communities of support can break the silence and taboo.
The need of the hour is to normalise menstruation and turn it into an essential discussion in the healthcare community in particular and society on a larger scale.
Here are simple ways you can normalise menstruation:
- The next time you buy sanitary pads, do not hide them in layers of newspaper.
- Try mentioning periods in front of your family, friends, work colleagues, and acquaintances honestly and openly.
- Support policies at work and school affirm that individuals who menstruate should not be discriminated against or punished in any way.
Doing away with the stigma would encourage women to engage with healthcare providers and seek medical attention for their Why Menstrual Hygiene The more women come forward with their concerns and stories around aching pain, the easier it would be for doctors to diagnose menstrual disorders that cause painful periods and treat them effectively.
Why Choose RIO Heavy Flow Pads?
A woman who suffers from heavy menstrual bleeding or menorrhagia experiences extremely painful periods. Having to change your sanitary napkin or tampon every hour can seem like an impossible task when you are dealing with throbbing menstrual cramps. Even wearing two or three ordinary pure products together can fail to bring any ease to your menstruation. Instead, the prolonged use of the products not meant for your heavy flow can make you more prone to skin irritation and infection.
Now, you must wonder what the answer to all your painful period troubles is? We bring you the RIO Heavy Flow Pads - the best sanitary pads for a heavy blood flow.
- High Absorbency - These pads have been specially designed with Japanese SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer) technology to deal with an enormous blood flow by converting the soaking liquid into gel form.
With a multiple-layer core absorbing blood clots and intense gushes, the heavy flow pads will save you from frequent visits to the bathroom and ensure maximum protection from leakage.
- Extra support - The heavy-duty RIO pads have wide cotton wings and side leg guards that prevent the pad from folding or rolling towards the ends. Thus, they are ideal for containing heavy flow throughout the night without waking up multiple times to change.
- Skin-friendly - Being free of artificial chemicals and fragrances - the anti-bacterial and aloe vera enhanced RIO pads are completely friendly to sensitive skin and promise to keep you rash-free. In addition to that, odor lock technology completely seals the period smell from leaving your pads.
We at RIO understand how debilitating painful periods can be, and we have put in our best research to make these pads that offer you optimal comfort on your heavy flow days.
What are you waiting for? Make the switch to RIO today and turn your painful periods into safe and worry-less ones.
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