Menstruation is often marked by a number of symptoms that may be painful or problematical. While typically a menstrual period lasts from 3 to 5 days’ duration, symptoms associated with menses can appear days or even weeks prior to actual menstruation. These symptoms affect mood and offer varying degrees of discomfort. Thankfully, options for treatment are available for home use, offering women methods to help relieve uncomfortable menstrual symptoms.
Reasons for Menstrual Period Symptoms
It is estimated nearly 80% of women suffer pain or discomfort associated with their menstrual period. Yet all women everywhere, to some degree, experience symptoms that are typical of menses. Investigating the underlying physical processes of the menstrual cycle and how it works provides a better understanding of how treatments prove helpful in eradicating or lessening menstrual period discomfort.
The menstrual cycle is an important component of a woman’s reproduction abilities. Menses begins with the release of an ovum, or egg, from one of the ovaries situated on either side of the abdomen in the lower pelvic area. Other vital organs also occupy this space in the body: the bladder, kidneys, uterus and intestines. It is indeed a crowded space, fit with organs that shrink and expand in their several processes.
Once a month, an egg is released from an ovary into a waiting fallopian tube, where the ovum travels a few days until it emerges into the chamber of the uterus. Meanwhile, the uterus has begun preparation of a soft, nourishing resting site for a fertilized egg to settle into, that the fertilized egg may develop into a baby. The body prepares for this event by developing a blood-rich lining that clings to the walls of the uterus.
Menstrual Period Symptoms
If an egg arrives at the uterus and has not been fertilized, it lacks the necessary development to attach itself to the uterine wall and begin a pregnancy. This unfertilized egg simply passes through the uterus to be discarded in the menstrual flow. The uterine lining intended to nourish a fetus does not receive hormonal signals that a fetus is present, therefore it detaches and sheds from the uterine wall, joining the egg in a bloody and somewhat fibrous flow of material from the body.
At the onset of the menstrual cycle, the uterus spasmodically contracts to hasten the expulsion of the uterine lining. These contractions are felt as cramping, causing the most common complaint of pain and discomfort associated with menses. It has been discovered that chemicals called prostaglandins are responsible for initiating the spasms of the uterus. The tightening of the uterine muscles tends to be of a long enough duration that the muscles become oxygen-deprived due to restricted blood flow. The outcome of oxygen deprivation to these muscles is perceived as a sensation of pain, much like the muscle pain from too vigorous a workout.
The thickened uterine lining can also cause discomfort from congestion in the pelvic area prior to the onset of the menstrual flow. Nestled between the bladder and large intestine, the blood-rich uterus joined by a full bowel and/or bladder can cause pressure on nerves causing lower back pain, feelings of distension and abdominal bloating. A tendency to retain higher fluid levels in the body at this time may also cause puffiness in the face, hands and feet.
Hormones play an important part in regulating the processes of the body to make ready for the development, nurturance and delivery of a human infant. A preparation begins that takes place over a period of approximately 14 days following the menstrual flow, during which time hormonal levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to rise. These hormones trigger the development of a polyp in the ovary which will emerge as the ovum, released to begin it’s unique journey to the uterus in the hope of being fertilized.
Some women may experience discomfort during ovulation. Sometimes the ovulating ovary becomes enflamed or swollen, a condition referred to as a “cystic” ovary. Since ovulation typically alternates between the two ovaries, a woman may experience extreme discomfort for one period, but not the next. When a cystic ovary is present, every other ovulation can cause heightened feelings of discomfort.
Roughly four days prior to the onset of the menstrual flow, the estrogen and progesterone levels needed for ovulation begins to wane. This fluctuation of hormones contributes to such difficulties as sleeplessness, moodiness, irritability, and sometimes even depression. Women may also experience heightened sexual arousal during this time, perhaps due to the congestion present in the pelvic floor. Hormones also spur development of milk glands in the breasts, leaving many women to complain of breast enlargement or congestion which brings with it a sense of increased breast tenderness.
Anger, sudden outbursts, fits of crying, isolation, and even self-contempt can also present themselves at this time. In addition, problems with constipation or diarrhea, nausea and headaches are not uncommon. Additional symptoms might include a sense of dizziness, feeling off-balance, or displaying a general lack of coordination. All of the physical symptoms of the pre-menstrual cycle described are regarded as contributors to PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome.
While typical menstrual discomfort is no picnic, extreme pain or heavy bleeding may be indicative of more serious problems. It is always wise to consult a physician if discomfort levels increase, bleeding is prolonged, or anything unusual presents itself in conjunction with a menstrual period. While heavy bleeding is common during adolescence and at the onset of menopause, bleeding between periods or other abnormal patterns could indicate the presence of polyps in the uterus, the presence of non-cancerous fibroids, or even cancer.
Common cramping during the menstrual flow can be greatly lessened with the use of ibuprofen, which effectively lessens muscle pain, or acetaminophen, which reduces inflammation. Additionally, the use of birth control pills regulates hormone levels to lessen the severity of hormone-caused discomfort and moodiness. For extreme discomfort, the application of warm compresses to the lower abdomen prove helpful, as does adequate rest and proper diet.