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Dysmenorrhea: How to relieve pain during menstruation?

Oct 14, 2020

The term dysmenorrhea refers to menstrual disorders in general but is commonly used to refer to pain in the lower abdomen that precedes or accompanies menstruation.

Dysmenorrhea affects between 16% and 91% in women of reproductive age and can last from adolescence to perimenopause.

What are the symptoms of dysmenorrhea? What are the underlying causes? What are the possible complications? How to relieve dysmenorrhea pain? 

Dysmenorrhea: How to relieve pain during menstruation?

What is dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is pain that precedes, accompanies or follows menstruation. This pain usually lasts 2 to 3 days. Severe dysmenorrhea affects one in five women.

There are two types of dysmenorrhea:

  • Primary dysmenorrhea (the most common form),
  • Secondary dysmenorrhea (due to pelvic abnormalities).

Half of the women who suffer from dysmenorrhea are affected by its primary form. Menstruation is painful in young women from the first menstrual period or, more often than not, within the first 18 months.

Primary dysmenorrhea is not linked to any particular gynecological disorder and the pain gradually subsides or disappears over time.

Conversely, for secondary dysmenorrhea, menstruation can become painful in a more mature woman who has never had pain before. This is often due to an organic cause, such as:

  • Endometriosis (the most common cause of secondary dysmenorrhea),
  • Chronic genital infections (metritis, salpingitis, inflammation of the base of the broad ligament, parametritis, etc.)
  • Degeneration (necrobiosis) of uterine fibroids,
  • Fallopian tube lesions (salpingitis, hydrosalpinx, pyosalpinx, etc.),
  • Ovarian lesions (oophoritis),
  • The copper IUD (intrauterine device)

What are the symptoms of dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is pain that appears as pelvic cramps (in the lower abdomen). These pains often appear before or at the beginning of menstruation, but can also occur throughout the duration of menstruation in rarer cases.

Dysmenorrhea is also accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • fever,
  • pain in the lower back and legs,
  • general discomfort.

For some women, the pain can be debilitating because of its intensity or duration. As a result, some women are unable to perform certain activities (work, sport or other) for one or more days.

What causes dysmenorrhea?

Pelvic pain in the lower abdomen or lower back is related to uterine contractions. In the absence of pregnancy, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone because the egg has not been fertilized. This triggers uterine contractions. This causes the endometrium (the mucous lining of the uterus) and blood to be shed.

In women who are prone to dysmenorrhea, the uterus contracts more intensely. This is thought to be due to the overproduction of prostaglandins (substances secreted by the endometrium that trigger contractions). Prostaglandins also act on muscles other than the uterus, which could explain the other symptoms accompanying dysmenorrhea (nausea, vomiting, headaches, malaise, etc.).

Perception of these contractions is different from one woman to another. Some will feel mild discomfort, others will be in great pain. In general, the pain is greater during heavy menstruation because the uterus has to contract more intensely to evacuate the endometrium.

Is there a risk of complications from dysmenorrhea?

In most cases, dysmenorrhea has no consequences except severe pain in those who are prone to it. When the pain is particularly intense and persistent, it can lead to psychological distress and even depression.

It is, however, essential to treat the gynecological disorder that could be responsible for dysmenorrhea in order to prevent it from getting worse.

What are the treatments for dysmenorrhea?

Drug treatments:

Generally, specialists prescribe analgesics or paracetamol to relieve pain, antispasmolytics for contractions and anti-inflammatory drugs to calm the inflammation.

It is advisable to take them as soon as your period starts, even if the pain is not yet severe, and to continue taking them until the symptoms disappear. A treatment period of 2 days is often sufficient.

Oral contraceptives:

Pain can be alleviated with an oral contraceptive as it prevents ovulation, reduces the production of prostaglandins and also reduces menstrual flow.

Some women decide to stop menstruating altogether by choosing a continuous contraceptive pill (which prevents pregnancy) or by opting for DEPO-PROVERA® (a contraceptive administered by injection which causes amenorrhea - the total cessation of menstruation).

Plants can also soothe pain:

  • Raspberry leaves contain flavonoids and fragarine with antispasmodic and tonic properties. They are therefore ideal for combating cramps and spasms caused by uterine contraction during menstruation. Prepare an herbal tea by infusing 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried raspberry leaves in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Consume 3 times a day before and during menstruation.
  • Sage contains a significant amount of phytoestrogens and is known to have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. It will therefore naturally help to relieve dysmenorrhea and regulate irregular menstrual cycles. You can brew 1 teaspoon of sage leaves in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Consume 3 times a day during menstruation.
  • Yarrow contains flavonoids and azulene, two components which are known to have an antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and calming effect. It is recommended for soothing cramps and stomach aches. Brew 1 pinch of the flowering yarrow tops in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Consume 3 times a day before and during the first days of menstruation.

Do not hesitate to use a heating pad or hot water bottle to soothe your pain. The heat of the pad or bottle directly on the lower abdomen will dilate the blood vessels, which increases the oxygen supply. This will relax the uterine muscles and thus reduce the pain caused by cramps.

Finally, if your periods are too painful and your symptoms are debilitating, don't hesitate to consult your doctor or gynecologist for advice.


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avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Community Manager France

Candice Salomé is Community Manager France at Carenity. She is also involved in the writing of articles for Santé Magazine. Responsible for member engagement on Carenity's French platform, she... >> Learn more

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