Are You Experiencing Unusually Painful Periods?

Being on your period comes with uncomfortable side effects, the most common one being menstrual cramps. While some cramping is normal, painful periods are not. Unfortunately, many girls and women live with menstrual pain without knowing that it’s very treatable.

Menstrual pain, also known as dysmenorrhea, often presents as cramps and pelvic pain. But it may also include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and muscle cramps. Menstrual pain is quite common: 50-90% of women have painful periods. Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is also associated with menstrual pain and increases with the severity of period pain.

Just because menstrual pain is common, doesn’t mean it’s normal. Painful periods is the leading cause of recurrent short-term school absenteeism for young girls. It can cause individuals to stay home from work or school, miss planned outings or engagements or make it difficult to participate in daily activities. When painful periods interfere with your life, it’s time to seek help.

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More often than not, menstrual pain can be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. If a stronger medication is needed, your doctor may prescribe something for you. The goals of treatment include symptom relief and a return to normal activities. If your symptoms are not minimized and your body does not respond to anti-inflammatory medications after three to six months of treatment, then you should visit your gynecologist for further medical evaluation.

Many girls do try over-the-counter medications. In fact, 25% of young girls use pain medication monthly, without having seen a physician to investigate the pain. If you or your daughter are experiencing chronic period pain, talking with your doctor is an important step in ruling out other causes of the pain.

Menstrual pain may result from other conditions or causes, including:

  • Endometriosis: tissue that normally grows inside the uterus (womb) is abnormally growing outside the uterus.
  • Ovarian cysts: sac-like structures, filled with a liquid or semisolid substance, are present within the ovary.
  • Polyps: mass of tissue that develops on the inside wall of the uterus, cervix or stomach.
  • Uterine fibroids:benign tumors in the uterus (womb).
  • Adenomyosis: the tissue that normally lines the uterus (endometrial tissue) grows into the muscular wall of the uterus.
  • Infections: the invasion and multiplication of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites that are not normally present within the body.

Endometriosis is the most common secondary cause of painful periods. To diagnose endometriosis, your doctor performs an evaluation, which often includes a detailed medical history, a pelvic exam and a pelvic ultrasound. Treatment may range from medications to surgery (a last resort). Individuals should consult with their doctor to decide the best treatment option for them.

Painful periods aren’t something that anyone should put up with, especially when it’s interfering with your ability to participate in and enjoy daily life. Menstrual pain is treatable, so don’t ignore the pain and symptoms. Discuss your pain with your family and healthcare providers so that you can get started on a treatment plan.

Burton Brodsky, MD, is an obstetrician/gynecologist with ProMedica Physicians practicing at Levis Commons in Perrysburg. View his provider profile.

Watch Dr. Goldschmidt talk about IUDs in a recent Ask the Expert on 13abc:

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