Dysmenorrhea is the occurrence of painful menstrual cramps and bleeding of the uterus. It can be classified as primary if there is no known physical cause or identifiable pelvic disease, or secondary if there is an abnormality found. Most women have a period every 24-34 days, lasting approximately 4-7 days. A change in the amount of bleeding and duration is among the most common health concerns women face. For most women, their menses is tolerable with minimal pain and bleeding. But for some, it can be very debilitating when it limits normal activities and medication is needed for relief of symptoms. Although these changes may cause a lot of anxiety for women and a medical evaluation is very important, most cases of abnormal bleeding are due to benign and easily addressed conditions.
A medical evaluation includes an accurate history of previous menstrual cycles, use of contraception, clotting problems, history of sexual transmitted diseases and heaviness of menstrual flow. A female exam is important to assess the pelvic area for any physical abnormalities. Significant lab testing can include a blood count, Pap smear, thyroid function test, pelvic ultrasound and endometrial biopsy. Medical therapy commonly consists of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen) or the oral contraceptive pill (birth control pill), both of which work by reducing uterine muscle activity. However, these treatments can result in a number of different side effects, making natural remedies a valuable choice.
Relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga have been used with some success to alleviate dysmenorrhea symptoms. Applying heat to the lower abdomen can also be helpful. Acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) are treatments that have been shown effective for pain relief in a variety of conditions. In dysmenorrhea, TENS is thought to work by changing the body's ability to receive or perceive pain signals and acupuncture is thought to block pain impulses.
On the next page, learn about lifestyle and dietary choices that can help reduce the effects of dysmenorrhea.