What No One Tells You About Cramping. What is Normal?
Ahhhh one of the wonderful symptoms that over 50% of women experience each month with their period. Can you hear my sarcasm there? I have a long history with painful periods, aka dysmenorrhea, if you want to get fancy about it. In high school, my periods would be so painful that I would vomit, pass out, and have to miss school every month because of it. So when we talk about pain, GIRL! I hear you! Today I want to give you the lowdown on what cramping is, what causes it, and what is normal and what is not normal… there is no reason your life should literally come to a screeching halt each month because you are in so much pain you cannot get out of bed (spoiler alert: that would fall in the “not normal” category!)
Why Does Cramping Occur?
So back to our fifth grade biology class, in which a teacher painfully told you the truth about being a woman. Each month our uterus must shed the lining that it has built up for a potential baby to grow. In order to do this a couple of hormones and other chemical messengers are at play. For one, progesterone has a decrease which causes the uterus to contract. Two, tiny chemical messengers called prostaglandins come into play. Prostaglandins can be found in every tissue in our bodies and play a key role in inflammation, or helping to heal against any tissue damage. So let’s slow down for a minute. When it is time to have a period, your body decreases its production of progesterone, which causes the uterus to begin to contract- leading to the shedding of your endometrial lining (or the lining for the baby— remember that one from 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Estrogen Dominance?) which is tissue damage. Because there is tissue damage prostaglandins are released. Are we on the same page? ok great!
Prostaglandins are the little buggers responsible for all that pain we get each month. They stop our blood from clotting during our periods (this is a good thing, we need it to leave our bodies) and cause contractions of our uterus so that we can expel all that old stuff. But with these actions comes pain, too many prostaglandins can lead to incredibly painful periods.
So What Exactly is “Normal”?
When it comes to pain, we in the medical field have a very hard time defining “normal”. What may be my 2 out of 10 on a pain scale, could be you 15 out of 10. But that doesn’t make it any less real. Again, this is where you are your own expert on your health.
Pain is real. It may be relative, but it is real.
So how can you tell if you need to discuss your period pain with you ob/gyn? These are some tell tell signs that treatment, diet changes, or hormonal supplements may be necessary:
If your are having to take Motrin before your period starts, every day of your period, and after it ends to help alleviate the pain.
If Motrin does not decrease the level of pain.
If your period cramping causes vomiting or you to lose consciousness.
If your pain stops you from accomplishing your normal daily life— I know we all like to take it easy when these cramps occur, but if you truly cannot move, this is a problem.
If you experience a fever with your period cramping.
One of the many things that are currently changing in medicine is how we treat women’s menstrual pain. For a long time, it was thought as “a part of our period”, something that most women deal with at some point in their lives. But luckily science and research are catching up and starting to see that period pain should be treated like any other pain, with seriousness and treatment options. I mean, if your leg began to hurt every month to the point where you couldn’t walk, your doctor would want to find ways to help. This is how we need to approach period pain as well.
My Cramping Doesn't Affect My Daily Life, But Still Sucks.
I got you too! Here are some things you can do to help alleviate this pain:
Taking an NSAID (aka motrin or ibuprofen), these drugs are specifically designed to halt the prostaglandin production in its tracks. Without getting too nerdy on you, just know that they block the chemical pathway that causes inflammation from these little buggers.
Heating pad or hot bath. Your muscles are contracting and heat will allow them dilate or expand.
Turmeric & black pepper. Ok so I tried the whole turmeric latte thing and it was not for me, so I switched to a supplemental form. Check with your doc before starting any kind of supplement as they can interact with other medicines you are currently taking.
Acupuncture, Acupressure, and TENS can help tremendously!
If you fall into the category that your period cramping is getting in the way of your day to day life, I beg you— please go talk to your ob/gyn. You should not have to give up 1-5+ days of your life in pain. To help with discuss concerns with your doctor, I have created a little cheat sheet to take with you to your doctors to discuss any health concerns you may have. This gives you ways to bring up symptoms as well as a place to take notes on what they tell you, if you do decide to go get a second opinion. Its hard advocating for yourself, but you can do it!! You can use this form for anything doctor related, not just GYN stuff! If you would like this form, just use the link below!
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Alright, there is your down and dirty on cramping, I hope it helped. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments! Live Joyful!
****As always, this information is intended to help you advocate for your own health. It is in no way diagnostic nor offering medical advice. By reading this website, you acknowledge that you are responsible for your own health decisions. Do not take anything from any website, including this one, and try it without proper research and medical supervision.
Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease.****