Period Pain: When Should You Be Concerned?
For many women, period pain is a fact of life.
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days and a period will last for 3 to 5 days. Cycles vary not only from woman to woman but can change during an individual’s lifetime as well.
Some women, unfortunately, suffer from severe cramps that can impact their health and wellbeing.
Here we look at the causes of menstrual cramps, important signs to look out for and how a functional medicine approach can help.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps?
Menstrual cramps exhibit a throbbing sensation or pain in the lower abdomen and, if severe enough, can interfere with daily living. During a period, the uterus contracts to expel its lining and prostaglandins, involved with pain and inflammation triggering, are also released.
Other causes of menstrual cramps include endometriosis, where tissue, similar to the lining of the uterus, grows outside the uterus, or uterine fibroids that are non-cancerous growths that can cause pain.
Period Pain Facts
- 80% of women will experience some form of period pain during their lifetime.
- In 5-10% of women, this is enough to disrupt their life.
- Many women suffer from other symptoms up to a week before their period, including headaches, bloating, irritability and fatigue.
Signs That Period Cramps are Not Normal
While period pains for many women are something they simply live with, it’s important to pay attention if things change or become more severe. The signs that your period cramps are not normal include:
1. Pain Medications Don't work
Most women find that taking pain medication such as Ibuprofen helps ease their symptoms. If this is not the case, then it’s important to seek medical attention to find out if there is another underlying cause and find out why pain management isn’t working.
2. Disruption in Day-to-day Life
If period pain means that an individual’s life is being disrupted, this should also be a concern. This could include regularly taking off time from work because the cramping is so bad or finding that normal daily activities are difficult to perform.
3. Random Pelvic Pain
Many women experience pelvic pain during their period or just before it starts. If pain is experienced at other times during the menstrual cycle, however, it can be another cause for concern. Pain during the cycle can often be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and fever.
4. Long-lasting Menstrual Cramps
If the menstrual cramps last for more than just the usual few days this is a reason to be concerned. Most times, cramps occur at the beginning of the period but do not continue until the end, dissipating in a few days at most.
5. Cramps Don't Feel "Normal"
Women understand their bodies and sometimes there can just be a sense that something is wrong. It’s important to take this concern seriously and have a checkup with a physician rather than ignore it.
6. Experiencing Other Symptoms
Other symptoms may mean an individual’s period is not normal. These include having nausea or bowel problems during cramps, heavy bleeding, and irregular cycles.
Period Pain Management: A Functional Medicine Approach
Managing period pain often involves taking something like an over the counter pain killer. A functional medicine approach doesn’t look at only treating the symptoms of any particular health condition, but instead, it focuses on determining and addressing the root causes of the issue.
Medications can have undesirable side effects. There are alternative, natural options that can help. For instance, ginger tea has been shown to be effective in reducing period pain.
Period pains may be caused by mineral and vitamin deficiency and, according to the functional medicine approach, looking at the individual’s diet and making lifestyle changes could make a significant difference. Foods that contain plenty of omega 3 such as salmon and nuts, for example, may help reduce cramping.
Eating a diet that is high in iron-rich foods such as leafy green veg and lentils is also a good idea. Individuals can add essential minerals like magnesium by consuming more spinach and kale (another great source is dark chocolate). Fruits are another good choice as they contain vitamins like B6 and minerals such as potassium that help reduce cramps.
The functional medicine approach is an integral component of Miskawaan Health’s treatment philosophy and looks at healthcare from the standpoint that everyone is an individual and each patient is different. That means understanding what is happening on a physiological basis when it comes to period pain and finding tailored solutions. A key component to this approach is to look at making lifestyle changes that combat the root cause of the issue, rather than simply trying to alleviate the associated symptoms.