What is Menstruation?
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Menstruation refers to the regular discharge of mucosal tissue and blood through the vagina. Mostly referred to as monthly or period, it happens due to contraction of the inner lining of the uterus. Constriction of the blood vessels that supply blood to the uterus happens at the time of severe contractions.
What are Menstrual Cramps?
During menstruation, women often experience menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea in the lower abdomen that are throbbing and cramping pains. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that trigger the uterine contractions causing inflammation and pain. Women may experience these cramps either during their menstrual cycle or before its onset during the given month. The discomfort intensity varies from a woman to another, and the cramps are thought to become less painful with age or after childbirth.
Menstrual cramps have been classified as follows:
- Primary Dysmenorrhea: Cramps experienced due to monthly menstrual cycle.
- Secondary Dysmenorrhea: Cramps that occur as a result of a problem in the reproductive organs.
Causes of Menstrual Cramps
- Menstrual cycle: During the monthly menstrual cycle, uterus undergoes strong contractions. The contractions exert pressure on the blood vessels blocking the supply of oxygen to the uterus causing cramps and pain.
- Premenstrual syndrome: 1 to 2 weeks before menstruation begins, some hormonal changes in the body cause a group of symptoms to come into effect. These symptoms include cramps, discomfort and pain. The symptoms cease when the woman begins to bleed.
- Adenomyosis: It is a rare condition in which the uterine lining grows into the muscular wall of the uterus. It causes pressure and inflammation during menstruation.
- Uterine fibroids: There may be tumors or growths in the inner walls of the uterus. They are noncancerous. However, they cause pain and certain abnormalities in menstruation.
- Endometriosis: Endometrial layer is the layer of tissues that make up the lining of the uterus. Endometriosis refers to a painful condition in which the cells of the endometrial layer grow in other parts of the body such as the fallopian tube, the ovaries, the tissue lining of the pelvis, etc.
- Cervical Stenosis: This condition involves the narrowing of the lower part of the uterus known as the cervix. In some cases, the cervix may be small. When the area is limited, it restricts the menstrual flow, thus resulting in pain and cramps. Scarring and low levels of estrogen after menopause can be other reasons for cervical stenosis.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: Sexually transmitted bacteria can cause this infection resulting in pain, infection and inflammation of reproductive organs.
Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps
- Severe pain in the stomach
- Pain in the lower back, inner thighs and hips
- Upset stomach
- Loose stools
- Feeling of pressure on the stomach
Risks Associated with Menstrual Cramps
People having the following features are more likely to experience menstrual cramps:
- Family history of painful menstruation
- Irregular periods
- Not having a baby
- Reaching puberty before age 11
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Females under 20 years of age
Treatment For Menstrual Cramps
- Adequate Rest: Some women face extreme pain and discomfort while menstruating. To ease the pain, it is advised to take rest during periods. Avoiding heavy or strenuous work can help them cope with the situation effectively.
- Hormonal Birth Control: Apart from preventing pregnancy, birth control also helps to reduce menstrual cramps. Sometimes, people also use it to prevent menstruation. However, it is advisable to consult a doctor before taking these forms of medication.
- Pain relievers: Another way to avert the pain is by taking pain relievers. Some doctors suggest that if pain relievers are taken 1 – 2 days before menstruation and if the person continues taking the medication 2 or 3 days into the cycle, the pain can be limited.
- Applying heat: Using a hot water bag or a warm bottle of water and placing it against the stomach may give some relief. Using a pillow to apply pressure on the abdomen or just sleeping on one’s stomach is also a good way to handle the cramps.
Essential oils for Menstrual Cramps
- Lavender oil: Recommended to be used for aromatherapy massage of the abdomen. Use of this oil has proven to reduce menstrual cramps.
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon is widely known for its quality as a spice. However, it has also been popular as an effective component in alternative medicines. Cinnamon helps to reduce inflammation, while application of this oil may be able to reduce the pain and inflammation that are characteristic of menstrual cramps.
- Combining oils: A combination of lavender, sage and marjoram oils used from the end of the last period to the beginning of the next period has proven to reduce pain and discomfort during menstruation.
- Cypress oil: The scent of this oil can be inhaled with the help of a scented candle or diffuser. It is said to have properties that can relax the muscles and reduce the pain involved in the cramps.
- Ylang Ylang: This oil is a mild sedative, mood enhancer and helps to calm the PMS symptoms. The use of this oil is ideal for those who suffer from anxiety and provides solace from the discomfort that might be experienced.
- Clary Sage: One of the most popular essential oils for menstrual cramps, it helps to reduce spasms like the ones experienced in the uterus during menstruation.
However, those who plan to use essential oils to treat menstrual cramps must make an informed decision after much thought. It is necessary because not much of research has been made on the use and benefits of essential oils about the treatment of menstrual cramps.
It is suggested that before massaging with any of the oils, one must first apply a small quantity on a smaller area of the skin and wait for a day to check for any irritation or allergic reaction. To be on the safer side, the person must always inform their doctor about whatever method of treatment they may be using.