Menstrual cycle is a regular as well as accepted series of monthly physiological changes in a woman during which she sheds the lining of her uterus. This physiological change begins at puberty and recurs all through a woman's reproductive years. In medical parlance, menstrual cramps are called dysmenorrhea, denoting an agonizing menstruation period.
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The entire menstrual cycle may last for anything between 21 and 35 days, while a 28-day menstrual cycle is considered to be normal. The cycle begins with the menstruation period and continues for anything between three and seven days. Very complicated physical as well as hormonal transformations take place throughout the remaining part of the menstruation cycle preparing the body of the woman for a potential pregnancy. When a woman is having her menstrual cycles, her body produces increased amounts of the hormone called estrogen. Augmented estrogen production makes the endometrium (uterine lining) grow and wait to receive a fertilized egg. In the meantime, the pituitary gland also secretes a hormone that stimulates the follicle leading to the development of a follicle for bearing the egg inside the ovary.
Ovulation takes place sometime during the middle of the menstrual cycle and the follicle releases an egg. Subsequently, there is a rise in the production of the hormone called progesterone, which makes the uterus ready to implant the fertilized egg. Progesterone works to help the endometrium contain an increased number of blood vessels as well as a glandular tissue - nourishing the uterus lining to develop into a supple and squishy 'nest' for the fertilized egg or embryo. However, this nest made ready by the body becomes unnecessary if the egg released by the follicle remains unfertilized and the levels of estrogen as well as progesterone decline roughly two weeks following ovulation. When this occurs, it sets off menstruation resulting in the disintegration of the spongy nest or endometrium, which leaves the body in the form of menstrual blood. Normally, a woman loses about 1/4 cup of blood during every menstruation period.
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Generally, menstruation cramps occur just prior to the beginning of the menstrual cycle or during the onset of the menstrual period. Such cramps may continue for anything between some hours to a number of days. When a woman has menstrual cramps, she generally experiences muscle contractions or sudden spasms in the lower region of her abdomen. The cramps may possibly spread downwards along the thighs or towards the back and their severity may vary from slightly aching to twisting pains. Women experiencing severe menstrual cramps may also suffer from additional symptoms, including headache, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, exhaustion, bloating, edginess, fainting, dizziness, sore breasts, backaches, and even mood swings.
Compared to normal women, it appears that women experiencing menstrual cramps produce more prostaglandins - hormones released by the lining of the uterus. These hormones have an effect on the soft uterine muscles resulting in augmented contraction of the uterus. Such tightening of the uterine muscles obstructs the blood flow to the region, lessening the amount of oxygen received by the uterus, which, in turn, causes pain. Provided there is a significant rise in prostaglandin, it may also result in powerful gastrointestinal contractions, thereby causing diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea - some of the symptoms related to menstrual cramps.
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When teenagers suffer from menstrual cramps, they possibly do not feel like socializing, visiting their gym class or even taking part in their routine activities. As social contact keeps majority of the teenagers healthy, experiencing menstrual camps for a couple of days may prove to be very difficult for them.
It is advisable that adolescents experiencing acute pain at the time of their menstrual period ought to visit their healthcare provider and seek advice. In fact, an acute pain in the abdomen may also be an indication of ectopic pregnancy (a fertilized egg developing outside the uterus), ovarian cyst, fibroid cyst, endometriosis (endometrium present in areas other than the uterine lining), endometrial cancer, or pelvic adhesions. Therefore, it is essential for them to undergo a medical diagnosis.
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Any teenager experiencing irregular menstrual cycles again and again - an alteration in the usual pattern of her menstrual cycle, or abnormal loss of blood, should also visit a physician. In fact, erratic or altering menstrual cycles may also be a sign of some problems related to the endocrine gland. It may be noted here that if the bleeding continues for a prolonged period or is in excess, it may possibly result in anemia.
In addition, you should also take your daughter to a physician in case she is taking birth control pill or has an IUD (intrauterine device) implanted and suffers from menstrual cramps. A proper diagnosis is essential to ascertain that the symptoms are not related to any other serious condition.
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Use of specific herbs and supplements has been found to be effective in relieving menstrual cramps. Some of these are discussed briefly below:
In addition to using conventional drugs and supplements and herbs, a woman can do some more things to avoid menstruation cramping. Most importantly, they should make an effort not to become obese or overweight, as overweight women normally experience additional menstrual cramps.
At the same time, it is important to undertake exercises on a regular basis. It has been found that menstrual cramps occur less frequently and are less severe in the case of healthy and fit women.
Women should also ensure that they take any high-quality vitamin as well as mineral supplements throughout the month. They need increase the amount of magnesium and calcium taken by them just before the onset of their menstrual periods.
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