You know when it's coming; you're sitting at your desk, feeling increasingly uncomfortable and then you feel the dreaded pangs, those cramps that are the tell-tale sign your period is on its way. For most, they are a pain (in more ways than one) but tolerable. However, for others, they can wipe you out for days at a time. Usually we just grin and bear it, but what happens when you go to see a doctor about period pain and endometriosis? Can they actually help?
First let's look at exactly what causes menstrual cramps. The medical term for period pain is dysmenorrhea, and it is usually as its worst on the first day of a period. The main reason for this is that just before your period starts, the prostaglandin production within the lining of your uterus rises; as the lining of the uterus comes out with your period, the prostaglandin level lowers and causes cramps, according to Verywell Health.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that more than 50 percent of women with periods experience pain and cramping for one to two days per month. That means that more than half of us are experiencing discomfort and pain on a monthly basis, which can leave us feeling tired and miserable, and can make daily tasks like travelling to work and exercising a real chore.
The good news for younger sufferers is that, according to Verywell Health, women tend to suffer from worse period cramps in their teen years, with most women experiencing gentler cramps by the time they reach their their 20s and 30s. The same site states that cramps can be alleviated by over-the-counter pain relief such as Ibuprofen, or you could try opting for a different birth-control method: progestin-only options such as the implant can help to reduce the period pains. Try also curling up with a hot water bottle or taking a long soak in a hot bath — or even some gentle exercise. All have been proven to help with cramps.
So I've established that a case of mild cramping around that time of the month is perfectly common, but what if it's more than just mild cramps? What if you find yourself unable to move or do anything productive for the duration of your period — leaving you out of action for a couple of days each month?
This is what is known as secondary dysmenorrhea, and is probably a sign you should go to the doctor. According to Verywell Health, unlike with milder cramps, this pain during the time of your period can get worse, not better, with age, and the pain may also get worse, not better, as the period goes on. It may even last after the period has ended — this is because the pain isn't due to the prostaglandin levels at all, but could point to a more serious conditions such as endometriosis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
According to WebMD, endometriosis happens when endometrial tissue which lines the uterus starts to form in other areas of the body. This can then lead to inflammation within the abdominal cavity, causing pain, bowel problems — and in the very worst cases infertility. So if you are experiencing severe pain, don't hesitate to pay a visit to the doctor, where they will check your medical history before performing a physical examination, including a pelvic exam, according to Verywell Health. The website states that the doctor may also order an ultrasound to take a closer look at your reproductive organs; this can also help to detect fibroids. It's possible also that your doctor may recommend you take a pregnancy test in order to rule out an ectopic pregnancy, which can cause you to bleed and cramp.
And what about treatment? In order to treat endometriosis, doctors may recommend a different birth control method, as according to Endometriosis News, progestin-only pills and contraceptive methods can be more effective in treating the pain and impact of the illness. And if fibroids are at the root of all your woes a doctor will advise surgery.
If you're worried, visit your doctor and put your mind at ease. That's what they're there for.