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- bbc world of news
Most women experience pain as part of their menstrual cycle.
This pain is usually felt as abdominal cramps, which can spread to the back, thighs, legs, and other parts of the body.
And it can be moderate and constant during the period, or in the form of stronger and more painful spasms.
Women may also experience nausea, diarrhea, and headaches.
The truth is, period pain varies greatly from woman to woman, from exactly where it is felt on the body to how severe it is.
Why do periods hurt?
“Thirty to 50 per cent of women have painful periods, and some are so bad that they affect their lives,” Dr. Katy Vincent, a pain researcher at the Department of Reproductive Health and Medicine, tells the BBC. Nuffield Woman, University of Oxford, England.
“When we have our period, the uterus contracts so blood can flow through,” she explains.
“And that lightheadedness or dizziness that you have, which is associated with the clot coming out, is probably because the cervix opens a little bit to let the clot pass through and that’s accompanied by a contraction.
It is also known that many inflammations occur during menstruation.
The tissues of the uterus release chemicals that cause pain. At the same time, the body produces prostaglandins, which increase during the menstrual period.
Prostaglandins are fatty compounds that are produced in cells and have a wide variety of functions in the body.
For example, during menstruation they cause the muscles of the uterus to contract and participate in the inflammatory response, which causes pain.
Prostaglandins are not hormones, but are often associated with them because of the way they work.
“We are convinced that prostaglandins are one of the factors that contribute to increased inflammation and pain during menstruation,” says Dr. Vincent.
But what is the function of this inflammation and the pain it causes?
“Inflammation has many positive functions. When you get injured, inflammation occurs, which leads to a process that helps the tissue heal and makes you aware that the injury is hurting you to protect that tissue while it heals,” explains Mr. Vicente.
It is a necessary process that allows the body to repair itself.
Therefore, during menstruation, all the cramps and pains are due to the prostaglandins that help the lining of the uterus to heal properly and ensure that all the menstrual fluid is eliminated from the uterus.
The problem arises when this process occurs in excessive amounts.
When should you worry about period pain?
For many women who experience period pain, it can usually be relieved with pain relievers or anti-inflammatories.
But in some cases, period pain can be caused by an underlying medical condition.
Uterine fibroids, also called fibroids, are noncancerous growths that can grow in or around the uterus and make menstruation heavy and painful.
Menstrual pain can also be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a bacterial infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries.
Salpingitis is often caused by bacteria from sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. And having unprotected sex with someone who has these infections can cause salpingitis.
Menstrual pain can also be caused by the intrauterine device, which is used for birth control and is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy.
But perhaps one of the main causes of pelvic pain is endometriosis.
Possible causes of painful periods
- Copper intrauterine device (IUD)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)
Source: US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
What is endometriosis?
“We define endometriosis as the presence of tissue from the lining of the uterus – the endometrium – outside the uterus, in abnormal places such as the pelvic area, the ovaries, the bladder or the intestines,” Andrew Horne, professor of gynecology and science, explains to the BBC. Reproductive Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, who has done research on the causes of endometriosis.
In addition to pelvic pain, this condition, which affects 6-10% of women, can cause problems conceiving and carrying a pregnancy to term.
The exact cause of endometriosis is not yet understood, but it can have a huge impact on the lives of women who suffer from it.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that endometriosis can have. It really is a terrible disease for people who have it,” says Andrew Horne.
“But our understanding of why endometriosis causes pain is quite limited.
According to the expert, one of the main problems faced by women with this disease is the difficulty in diagnosing it.
“Symptoms of endometriosis are often dismissed because they are thought to be normal (in menstruation),” she says.
“The other big problem is that endometriosis often has the same symptoms as other disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome or painful bladder syndrome, so it’s not an easy disease to diagnose.”
Symptoms of endometriosis
The “classic” symptom, explains Professor Horne, is pelvic pain during menstruation, but this pain can also occur outside of menstruation, when defecating, urinating or having sex.
Also, endometriosis cannot be diagnosed using a CT scan or blood test. There is only one way to confirm the presence of the disease – a laparoscopy.
This is a surgical procedure during which the surgeon makes a small abdominal incision into which a viewing instrument, the laparoscope, is inserted to detect endometriosis within the pelvic cavity.
There is no cure for endometriosis, only treatments aimed at relieving symptoms can be offered.
Endometrial growths may be surgically removed, or a hysterectomy may be performed to remove the entire uterus. And there is also hormonal treatment.
But the goal of endometriosis research is to find a cure, that is, a drug or treatment that can stop the disease and relieve pain for many women.