It’s not uncommon for women to face discomfort during their periods due to heavy flow, bloating, mood swings, tender breasts, and the dreaded period of pain. It’s never fun. Technically called dysmenorrhea (literally meaning ‘difficult monthly flow’ in Greek), these menstrual cramps are experienced by 80% of women at some stage in their lifetime – from their early teens right up to the menopause. That dull ache in the gut is often the first sign that your periods are here.
In most cases, period pain causes only mild discomfort that can be easily managed on your own with a heating pad, home remedies, or over-the-counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen. But if none of these helps calm your cramps during heavy period flow and the pain gets so intense that it starts disrupting your daily life, it could be a symptom of something more serious. According to studies, 5% to 10% of women experience such severe, or even chronic period pain that they can’t also get out of bed.
Since menstrual cramps feel different to every woman and there’s no true ‘normal,’ it can be difficult for you to tell whether the pain you have gotten used to is chronic. So, here are a few common symptoms that can help you understand when you should start worrying about the cramps and talk to your OB-GYN to find the exact cause of your pain and the treatment options.
1. Your cramps get worse enough to interfere with your daily life
If you’re experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding with clots and pain that keep you from going about your normal activities, so much so that you have to skip work or school regularly, it’s concerning.
2. Your pain lasts longer than 2-3 days (even outside of your period)
Your period may last anywhere from 2-7 days, but it’s not normal for you to experience the cramps it brings the entire time. The pain may start a day before or the same day you get your periods and go on for a maximum of 2-3 days, not until the end of your period, and certainly not after it ends.
3. Your cramps aren’t relieved by over-the-counter pain medication
Most commonly, over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen can be effective in helping you get rid of the monthly discomfort caused due to period pain. But if it doesn’t help you get on with your day even after taking the recommended dosage, it’s not normal.
4. Your cramps get worse and periods get heavier over 2-3 months
Prolonged and heavy menstrual bleeding with clots and pain is never a good sign if it gets worse over time. It could point towards an underlying disease, so you will need to get diagnosed.
5. Your stomach pain spreads to your pelvis, back, or down your leg
It’s quite common to experience pelvic discomfort before and during the first few days of your cycle, but at any other time, it may signal a problem. Pressure on your back or down your leg is also a sign of abnormally bad period cramps. You might want to call your healthcare provider immediately.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned below during your periods, it’s worrisome!
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unusual spotting
- Irregular cycle
- Heavy flow
- Pain during sex
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Trouble breathing
Bottom line: If your cramps don’t feel normal at any time, it’s probably because something is wrong.
While the leading cause behind the common menstrual cramps, also known as primary dysmenorrhea, is the contraction of the uterine when it sheds its lining. Worse than average period pain is an indication that you’re experiencing secondary dysmenorrhea, which is often caused by a medical condition.
Wondering what could be wrong? Here are a few possible underlying causes behind severe pain:
- Uterine Fibroids: Growths in the uterus
- Ovarian Cysts: Fluid-filled sacs within the ovary
- Endometriosis: Lining of the womb found outside the uterus
- Adenomyosis: Lining of the womb grows into the wall of the uterus
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): Infection in reproductive organs
- IUDs: Birth control devices inserted into the uterus
When the usual home remedies for heavy flow are no match for your periods that are accompanied by the most painful cramps, your OB-GYN might help you fight the discomfort with common treatments, like:
- Hormonal birth control: They help control the oestrogen and progesterone levels in the body that affect the uterine lining thickness, thus reducing prostaglandin and bringing pain relief. It can also eliminate the cramps by causing women to skip their periods.
- Prescription medication: When over-the-counter (OTC) medications fail to work, your doctor might prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are much stronger and help significantly reduce prostaglandin in your uterus, while alleviating period pain.
Do not take your period pain lightly. If it persists and disrupts your daily activities, book an appointment with your doctor and find the possible underlying causes. A healthy period is a sign of a healthy body.