If you're someone who gets a period, you probably already know just how terrible menstrual pain can be. I'm willing to bet you've spent more than one afternoon clutching your stomach in agony, wondering why, oh, why your period hurts so much. But although it may be cold comfort, scientists have just identified a potential common cause of a painful menstrual cycle: According to recent research that appeared in the May 2016 issue of the Journal of Women's Health, the culprit behind menstrual pain might come down to the activity of a biomarker known as a C-reactive protein (CRP). What does that mean, exactly? Basically, inflammation might be making you feel terrible. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Researchers Ellen Gold, Craig Wells, and Rasor Marianne O'Neill discovered that reactions from CRP may trigger acute inflammation, which results in menstrual pain. What does this finding imply? In layman's terms, it suggests that we can begin treating menstrual pain with anti-inflammatory treatments, both as a preventative measure (because who doesn't want to nip their cramps in the bud?) and once the pain begins.
As Dr. Susan Kornstein, who introduced the study in the journal, explains, "The majority of women experience at least some premenstrual symptoms. Recognizing an underlying inflammatory basis for PMS would open the door to additional treatment and prevention options and create a new opportunity for long-term risk intervention." This is an excellent point, and touches on an important issue: A huge number of women's and reproductive health issues have gone under-discussed or lain stagnant for years on end, resulting in an awful lot of people suffering in silence.
The reality is, many people who get periods (and we're not just talking about women here; trans men, non-binary people, and pretty much every other person on the planet with a utuerus are affected, as well) experience menstrual cycles from early adolescence through middle age. Menstrual pain varies from person to person, but can feel debilitating and negatively impact work and academic performance, personal relationships, and even body image and self-esteem. If we can figure out what might be causing this pain, then we can start taking measures to alleviate it, or to prevent it entirely — which could be a game-changer for the period-having population.
While this recent breakthrough in research is an awesome step forward, there are multiple theories (and of course, multiple causes) concerning where menstrual pain may stem from, and how best to treat it. Here are four more possible causes of menstrual pain — and of course if you're experiencing debilitating period pain, make sure to get checked out by your doctor. It could make all the difference.
1. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Most often, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is caused by leaving sexually transmitted infections untreated. When sexually transmitted infections go untreated and turn into PID, they can wreak havoc on your body, causing inflammation, scarring, infertility, and yes, painful menstrual cycles. This is an important reminder to get tested for STIs on a regular basis and to prioritize practicing safe sex — and if you sense something is up with your body, see a medical professional ASAP.
According to the Mayo Clinic, endometriosis is a serious condition where the uterine lining is found outside of the uterus on other structures throughout the pelvis, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and pelvic floor. While the scientific jury is technically still out on how exactly endometriosis causes menstrual pain, many medical professionals suspect it has to do with where specifically the uterine lining is found and how it manifests in the body.
3. Uterine Fibrosis
Uterine fibrosis impacts many women, though not everyone experiences the symptoms. In fact, according to Everyday Health, as many as three out of four women will develop uterine fibroids in her lifetime. If your uterine fibrosis does give you symptoms, however, they can be really intense and painful, especially when you're menstruating. This happens when someone has uterine fibrosis to such severity that it has misshapen their uterus. As Lauren Streicher, MD., Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, and author of Love Sex Again, explains to Everyday Health, "The reason behind the pain is that the uterus must contract (cramp) to expel the large blood clots that often result from heavy bleeding."
4. You're Dehydrated
This one is, hypothetically, a super easy fix, but it's definitely worth keeping in mind the next time your menstrual cycle is due. According to SheKnows, drinking more water while on your period decreases your chances of water retention, whereas dehydration typically causes more intense cramping and water retention. Of course, there are many health benefits to drinking enough water and staying hydrated even aside from your menstrual health, such as helping your kidneys, regulating your bowel movements, brightening your skin, and relieving muscle pain.
So, there you have it! Remember, if you're feeling severe menstrual pain, it's definitely a good idea to seek out a medical professional and get further insight into what's happening inside your body. Just because you get a monthly menstrual cycle doesn't mean you have to put up with the pain and suffer in silence — especially if there's a possibility you have an underlying medical issue.
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