The Truth Behind PERIOD CRAMPS

A very known feeling when your uterus churns inside making you roll all over your bed in laymen’s terms is called period cramps or menstrual cramps. If you are a woman reading this, you know this feeling and clearly know what we are talking about but if you don’t know it, consider yourself lucky for not experiencing this monthly torture of 3 to 7 days we are about to describe. 

And, yes if you are a man reading this for your wife or girlfriend, then welcome to the dark side of the women’s world aka period cramps.

Mostly felt in the abdomen, lower back or thighs, period cramps are very common amongst women and is believed 8 out of 10 women suffers from it.  They are usually felt and are worse during the initial days of your menstruation cycle. They may come in bouts or could be a long prominent pain depending on person to person. Although some cramps are barely noticeable while some could be mild pain but some cramps could result in severe unbearable pain which could be a hinder in a day to day life. Those kinds of pension our period days are the ones we day-offs for from either work or school.

But before we explain what period cramps are, we need to find out first, what exactly your period is?

What Happens In Your Uterus?

Imagine you are throwing a surprise party for a guest you have been expecting to arrive for a very long time. This guest has been promising you to come over for a stay for the past couple of years. To give this guest all the luxury and comfort, you have made all the arrangements. You did some beautiful decorations and lighting to the room. On top of that have also taken permission from the neighbours to party hard but then this guest decides to ditch you at the last minute. 

You are bound to be upset and it’s not your fault.

And this is exactly the case with your uterus. 

Your uterus prepares itself for a gala time with the tiny human guest it is expecting to arrive this month. Your uterus works hard and makes sure everything is perfect and the guest coming in as comfortable as possible. The decorations and lighting are done in the form of uterine blood and hormones which are made to take the utmost care of the guest arriving. And it just doesn’t stop here. It also seeks all the necessary permissions from the other organs like the stomach, intestines, liver and lungs to accommodate the baby when it grows. See, how thoughtful that was of your uterus.

But then the baby doesn’t show up and it hurts the feeling of your uterus. Now, the uterus goes crazy and acts lunatic. He just sees red in anger (quite literally) and the revenge mode is activated. And from here, everything goes south. The uterus angrily shreds everything he prepared so hard for through the vagina.

There comes down all the decorations and lightings through a small vagina.

And to make the process torturous, it carries on for a couple of days. Your uterus knows how to be kind but also knows how to be mean and nasty.

Now to be fair, the uterus deserves to be mad. After all the hard of the uterus, the Moral of the story- should be dont hurt the sentiments of your uterus. However,  it’s not plausible to fulfil your uterus request all time. 

But how this process works in terms of science. Let’s find it out.

What Are Periods?

knowing your period cycle

Periods or menstruation is a simple yet very complicated process in which your uterus sheds its lining. It happens once a month and lasts for atleast 5 to 7 days. Even though periods are normal phenomena occurring in the female body, some women are likely to experience period cramps if they frequently experience irregular or heavy bleeding. Sometimes, it is often observed that women who start their period at a young age are more prone to these cramps. According to a study, in 10 out of 100 women the pain is so bad that they’re unable to carry out their usual daily activities during this time of the month.

Period cramps are predominately categorized as primary dysmenorrhea which is caused by the increased production of prostaglandins which are hormones like chemical messenger produced by the uterus during menses. They help the uterus to contract and relax in order to facilitate the easy shedding of the endometrium. On the other hand, secondary dysmenorrhea is period pain caused by some other underlying health conditions such as endometriosis.

To explain it a bit further, your entire menstrual cycle is of 28 days which is divided into 4 phases. 

  1. Menstrual Phase
  2. Follicular Phase
  3. Ovulation Phase
  4. Luteal Phase

During these phases, a lot happens in a female body which includes the thorough activities of the brain, ovary and uterus. Amongst these 4 phases, the menstruation phase is the phase, where your period begins

To simply put it into words, in the menstrual phase, the shredding of the blood and endometrium (uterus lining) takes place but how does this happen?

Read- Everything About Menstrual Cycle in Detail

But What Causes The Period Cramps?

abdominal pain due to menstrual cramp
Photo by Polina Zimmerman:

As mentioned earlier, the uterus prepares itself for the fertilization of the egg with the sperm. The corpus luteum (temporary gland which secretes progesterone and estrogen) waits for fertilization of the egg for almost 10-12 days. If the fertilization happens, a zygote is formed and the pregnancy is established. However, if this fertilization doesn’t take place, the corpus luteum stops producing its hormones which leads to a drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body. This causes the endometrium, along with mucus and blood to shred. 

During this process, prostaglandin comes to light. Its level rises after ovulation and reach their peak during menstruation. The rise in the level of prostaglandins causes the muscles of the uterus to contract and relax. The movement helps in expelling the endometrium lining through the vagina. These contractions can cause pain and inflammation. It is believed by many researchers that the excessive production of prostaglandins is the reason behind your period cramps.

But in some cases, period cramps can be due to some underlying condition and this is called secondary dysmenorrhea. This requires the doctor’s attention and could be for the following reason.

1. Endometritis– It is a condition in which the endometrium of the uterus (inner lining) starts growing outside.

2. Fibroids– Fibroids in the uterus are the non-cancerous growth forming a lump and causing pain.

3. Pelvic Inflammatory disease- PID is a bacterial infection in female reproductive organs.

Experiencing Period Cramps?

If are suffering from period cramps every month and are finding it very difficult to cope with it, these are some general methods to give you some relief.

  1. Using a hot water bottle– A hot water bottle or heating pad is a very inexpensive method to reduce pain. It is a tried and tested method which is believed to be one of the best to reduce pain.
  1. Using vitamins or supplements– During periods, it is believed that the body requires some extra supplements and vitamins. Much research is underway but Magnesium, Zinc and Vitamin B, are believed to provide some relief from the pain.
  1. Regular exercising and self-care– Regular exercising or yoga helps reduce the pain as per some research. Monitoring your stress and anxiety levels may help in having painless periods.
  1. Antiinflamorty drugs– Taking medicines for pain like ibuprofen helps reduce period pains.

If the above-mentioned methods don’t help much and you think you suffer from secondary dysmenorrhea, try consulting your doctor for some advice. Although menstrual pain is categorized as ‘normal’ it’s always best to seek help if the pain is unbearable and disrupts your daily life.

Our Final Thought

Periods are absolutely normal but for some, they are a more difficult time of the month than others. Period cramps are extremely difficult to deal with and therefore take some time out for yourself and relax during this time of the month.

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