When I shared the news about doctors recognizing menstrual cramps being as painful as the country’s deadliest heart condition, thousands of you erupted with a similar reaction.
Variations of “Finally!” and “It’s about time! filled the comments section of that article.
With that long-awaited news also came some discussion about what makes cramps so painful. As you may know, women’s experience with cramps and menstrual pains vary person per person. Aside from the fact that all women are just different from each other, there are also a few notable conditions that make period pain especially unbearable.
Here are a few:
1. Secondary Dysmenorrhea
Menstrual cramps, also called dysmenorrhea, are caused by contractions in the uterus before or during your period. The pain comes when your uterus presses against blood vessels and temporarily reduces oxygen to your uterus’s muscle tissue. Yikes.
However, there are two kinds of dysmenorrhea: Primary and secondary. That sounds technical, but the distinction is really just that secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by a reproductive organ disorder. In this case, cramps can start sooner and last longer than normal menstrual pain.
Mention of this painful condition has become way more mainstream in recent years—and for good reason. Endometriosis is diagnosed when tissue that lines a woman’s uterus starts growing where it shouldn’t. In most cases, this is the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and other places within the pelvis.
This rogue tissue causes extreme pain and can affect a woman’s fertility and the heaviness of her menstrual cycles.
Fibroids are sometimes present with endometriosis, but fibroids differ because they’re actual benign muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus (whereas endometriosis commonly is found outside the uterus).
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, these tumors can appear on their own or in groups, and can be as large as a grapefruit. Considering this, it’s no wonder that fibroids can cause painful, heavy periods.
4. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Lots of teenage girls today learn about STDs — or have at least heard of them. However, they’re not as likely to connect the dots between STDs and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease—though more than 1 million women a year experience an episode.
This infection of the female reproductive organs is a serious complication of STDs that can cause irreversible damage to a woman’s reproductive system. Other causes are childbirth, abortion, or cervical procedures.
PID occurs when bacteria from the vagina aren’t blocked by cervix (like it should be). Then, bacteria causes a chain reaction, infecting the cervix and slowly spreading. In addition to abdominal and back pain, cramps can pop up throughout the entire month.
5. Other Causes
If there isn’t an underlying medical condition, painful cramps could be caused by something totally controllable. In some cases, cramps can be caused from an Intrauterine Device (IUD) or hormonal birth control pills.
Cramps are cramps—but within that word is an entire spectrum of pain that ranges from tolerable to totally debilitating. If you haven’t started investigating what’s causing your body to experience the same kind pain as a heart attack, start now.