A woman’s menstrual period can be accompanied by a number of symptoms that make the entire process particularly difficult to manage. While a menstrual period usually only lasts 3 to 5 days, symptoms can actually start a few days to a week before the period begins, causing discomfort and mood changes. There are several treatments and home care methods available to relieve the symptoms that often accompany menstrual periods.
Changes in hormones cause menstruation to occur. Each month, the uterus prepares for a possible pregnancy by creating a soft lining comprised of blood. If a pregnancy does not occur, this lining exits the body through the vagina and appears as a steady flow of blood for several days. The average age of first menstruation in the United States is 12, according to the National Women’s Health Information Center.
Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms
Signs and symptoms that begin during the days before your period occurs are part of the pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). Typical PMS symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, headache, backache, depression, insomnia, breast tenderness, cravings and feeling depressed. The symptoms usually improve when your period starts but may not disappear completely until your period ends.
Common Period Symptoms
Cramping commonly occurs as the uterus contracts to expel the uterine lining. The pain from this cramping can be mild to severe and may vary in intensity from month to month. If you experience severe cramping and pain, you may be suffering from a condition called dysmenorrhea. Period pain can be classified as dysmenorrhea if it interferes with your daily activities and requires medication. Symptoms of dysmenorrhea include cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, low back pain, weakness, headaches, pain in the lower part of the abdomen and pain that radiates down the legs.
Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
Unusually heavy bleeding, very long periods, bleeding between periods or periods that happen too close together are classified as abnormal uterine bleeding. Hormonal changes that occur at menopause and puberty can cause abnormal bleeding. Abnormal bleeding can also be caused by uterine polyps, which are growths in the walls of the uterus, or fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterine walls. Uterine cancer can also cause bleeding.
Treatment for painful periods varies depending on the cause of the symptoms. Over-the-counter pain killers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be helpful in relieving cramps. If hormones are thought to be the cause of heavy bleeding and pain, using a hormonal contraceptive, such as birth control pills, can help control and reduce these problems. Exercise may reduce period pain and stress caused by PMS. Warm baths and hot water bottles placed on the abdomen can be effective in reducing the pain from uterine cramping.