You probably learned growing up that experiencing pain during your period was "normal". But actually, this is under debate. Severe pain can be a sign of an underlying condition like endometriosis, fibroids, or PCOS. What about your run-of-the-mill cramps, though? It turns out those could point toward health problems as well.
There are two types of period pain: primary and secondary dysmenorrhea. Secondary dysmenorrhea is the kind of period pain that indicates an underlying condition. Primary dysmenorrhea is the kind that doesn't. However, even if it doesn't point toward any serious illness, primary dysmenorrhea could point toward suboptimal health, OB/GYN Eden Fromberg, DO, Founder and Director of Holistic Gynecology New York, tells Bustle. And if you make the changes necessary to eliminate it, you just might find that other aspects of your health improve as well.
"The normalization of female pain is an ongoing problem in general, and characterizing dysmenorrhea that is not severe as 'normal' is more of a social than a biological or medical assessment," she says. "It is this dismissal or minimization of the female phenomenological experience of pain that so often leads to women being treated for their psychological and emotional responses, dismissed, or treated with medications and surgical procedures that may blunt quality of life and compromise long-term well being."
If primary dysmenorrhea isn't normal, then, why is it so common? Mary Lou Ballweg, president and executive director of the Endometriosis Association, believes it largely has to do with poor diet, pollution, and other problems with our modern lifestyle.
To understand how this happens, we have to understand what causes period cramps. Regardless of whether they believe they're normal or not, most doctors (including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) agree that they come from chemicals called prostaglandins that determine how strongly your uterus contracts to get the blood out.
The thing with prostaglandins is, a number of factors can affect how many and what kinds you produce, which means you can reduce your period pain by controlling these factors. Here are a few of them, according to experts.