We’ve all been there—painful period cramps send us running to the medicine cabinet in search of something to take the pain away. For the majority of women, the pain is mild and only lasts a day or two. For others, severe, life-stopping cramping can start up to a week before a period even begins and bring everyday activities to a grinding halt.  For these women, painful periods that are characterized by backache, and extreme cramping that comes and goes is known as dysmenorrhea.  No, I didn’t sneeze, but it’s pronounced “dis-men-uh-ree-uh”. It just means, basically, an abnormally painful period.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), more than one half of all menstruating women have some form of pain during or before their period.  Now unless you are interested in a long lesson in anatomy and physiology, allow me to just break the problem down as simply as I can.  For some women, painful periods are triggered by a series of hormonal changes—yes, another reason to blame something on hormones—and contracting of the uterine muscle when your period starts.  The uterus of course, is designed to contract during childbirth on a much grander scale than during your period, but essentially the process is the same. For other women, cramping may not be only related to hormones, but could hold a link to other underlying conditions.  In the case of fibroids, or endometriosis, cramping and pain may start before a menstrual cycle begins, get worse during the period, and only stops when the bleeding does.  Typically the pain for these women is much worse than for others.

In order to know if you have dysmenorrhea, you can’t overlook a visit to the doctor.  Usually, your physician will talk with you about your periods, and perform a physical exam, Pap smear if indicated, blood work and maybe even an ultrasound of your lower abdomen to examine your uterus more closely.  Every case of dysmenorrhea needs to be treated individually. If your doctor finds a definite cause of your pain, she will be able to make suggestions to lessen or eliminate the pain.  In other cases, treating cramping with oral medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, oral birth control pills, and even some vitamins and minerals may help.  For some women surgery may be needed to correct the cause.

But don’t worry about that last part just yet.  The first step to getting your painful periods under control is to talk with Dr. Hessel.  A frontrunner in individualized care, Dr. Hessel will create a plan just for you.  Every woman’s body responds differently to different treatments and she welcomes the opportunity to work with you.  There’s no need to let another month go by—get your life back from your painful period—and come in for a visit soon.

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