Wellness

Not An Ordinary Cramp: Here's What Your Menstrual Cramps May Be Trying To Tell You

My last menstrual cramps were so severe that I thought that I was giving birth to the son of Satan.


Fortunately, I’m no different than any other woman who experiences menstrual cramps, and I do what I can to minimize the pain of what feels like giving birth to a demon. But what happens when those cramps are more severe than normal? Do you go get the Holy Oil and a Bible, or do you cry on the phone to your OB/GYN while you’re doubled over in pain?

Sure, you can do both, but if your menstrual cycle has you turning green, outgrowing your clothes, and turning into “The Hulk”, you should probably call your OB/GYN. Or if you have to be confined to your bed, or a wheelchair, and can’t get out of it for several days, your body may be telling you that you have some issues that you need to take care of.

Here are four wellness issues specific to women that starts with cramping, but could turn out to be a much more serious issue. 

1. PELVIC INFLAMMATORY DISEASE (PID). 

By "fix it" I mean the pain. Oh the pain!

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, PID is an infection caused by bacteria in your vagina or cervix. When that bacteria gets in your womb, fallopian tubes, or ovaries, they can cause an infection, which equals horrible pain. Most of the time, the bacteria is a result of a sexually transmitted infection, like gonorrhea or chlamydia. This is why you should never have unprotected sex.

Symptoms: Fever or chills, increased foul smelling or abnormal vaginal discharge, dull pain or tenderness in the lower abdomen (number one sign), nausea, vomiting, pain with peeing and pain during sex. 

2. FIBROIDS

These are muscular tumors that grow on the walls of your uterus. Fibroids are usually non-

cancerous, and they can be as small as an apple seed, or as large as a grapefruit. Age, obesity, ethnic groups (black women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women), and family history are all factors that can increase a woman’s chances of getting fibroids.

Symptoms: heavy bleeding, prolonged periods (less than 7days) pelvic pressure or pain or bloating sensation in your abdomen, pelvis or lower back), pain during sex and frequent urination.

3. ENDOMETRIOSIS 

This is a disorder most common among women in their 30s and 40s. Bustle

explains it best:

Endometriosis is a disorder wherein the lining of your uterus decides to take itself out on an adventure to see the wide world of your innards and grows outside your uterus. Since it maintains its identity as endometrial tissue, it thickens and bleeds with your menstrual cycle — but the blood has no place to go! The result? Irritated tissue that develops into scar tissue or adhesions. Basically, this road trippin’ tissue wreaks havoc on your pelvic area, which can cause severe pain. It can also mess with your fertility by obstructing the egg’s path — around one-third of women with endometriosis have trouble getting pregnant.

Symptoms: PAIN with everything... with bowel movements, with menstral cramps, during and after sex, pain in your lower back, excessive bleeding and difficulty getting pregnant (infertility - yikes!)

Copper IUD

4. COPPER IUD

This thing is a non-permanent and non-hormonal birth control medicine that lasts for 10 years. The IUD is placed inside the woman’s uterus (by a licensed doctor, may I add). It works by releasing copper, which immobilizes sperm and prevents egg implantation.

There has been serious issues associated with the use of copper IUDs in women. Dr. Gangemi says that some problems associated with the copper IUD include hormonal problems, or the copper oxidizing and causing damage to the cervix and uterus.

According to Dr. Oz contributor Nurse Alice Benjamin, the copper IUD is not for everyone, and not all IUDs are made of copper. She says,

ParaGard is the only cooper IUD approved in the United States. Either way, women with the following [well woman issues] should steer clear to avoid any complications from cooper IUDs:

  • If you have uterine abnormalities that interfere with the placement or retention of an IUD
  • a pelvic infection, such as pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Uterine or cervical cancer
  • If you have unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • If you are allergic to any component of cooper IUDs
  • If you have a disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in your liver, brain and other vital organs (Wilson's disease)
  • Are at high risk of a sexually transmitted infection, and won't use condoms
  • Or if you have had previous problems with an IUD

Symptoms: Severe bleeding, severe pain in your belly, smelly discharge, you have signs of pregnancy, and you just ate a kitten. Okay, maybe you didn’t eat a kitten, but if you have the other symptoms, that’s bad.

If you don’t have any of these symptoms, then congratulations! You’re a normal woman. Here are some self care tips that could possibly help you feel better if your cramps are cramping your style.

1. EXERCISE

I know it sounds like a curse word right now, but exercise truly helps ease menstrual cramps. Exercise releases beta-endorphins, that can immensely ease period cramps. Try some deep squats, aerobic exercise, and yoga to help ease menstrual pain.

Nurse Alice says,

The better shape you’re in and the more physically active you are, the less likely you are to suffer from chronic aches and pains, including menstrual cramps. Trying yoga positions that target the pelvis and lumbar region, where period pain is the worst, have been known to be helpful.

2.  CHANGE YOUR DIET

Some women swear that when they switch to a high-fiber, low-fat diet, their cramps feel better. Try eating more nuts, whole grains, veggies, and dark fruits when your cramps are starting to cramp your style.

3. WATER

Speaking from personal experience (and remember, my cramps are pretty terrible), drinking lots of water helps my cramps tremendously. Even when you’re not on your menstrual cycle, you should be drinking, at least a half of a gallon of water per day. But I noticed that my cramps feel better when I drink closer to a gallon of water a day. Trust me, it works!

4. SEX

Many women think sex during their cycle is as gross as seeing Ben Carson tongue kissing his wife on TV. But turns out, it’s not that gross (sex on your cycle, not the Ben Carson thing).

According to UC Santa Barbara,

Additionally, many women who engage in sex during menstruation report that their menstruation seems to end sooner than if they had not had sexual intercourse. This is plausibe, as the muscle spasms of orgasm may allow menstrual flow to come out quicker than usual. Furthermore, the hormones that your body releases during sex (such as oxytocin) help relieve the menstrual cramps, depression, and irritability associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Please note that there is no guarantee that you won’t get pregnant if you get your swerve on during your moon, so there’s that.

But either way, I’m sure that if you have sex on your cycle, you’re not going to knock anything loose. So grab your towel, your partner, or a toy if you’re not cool with doing it with your lover, and get to getting.

5. MEDICINE AND A HOT WATER BOTTLE

After reading this, some women are still going to go back to using Motrin and a hot water bottle. It’s been a great remedy to cure unruly menstrual cramps for ages, and it works very well. If you’re not feeling the other options, there’s nothing wrong with taking it old school, and drugging yourself to a little bit of pain relief.

Most doctors don't object to women using over-the-counter medicines to help with period pain, like Motrin or Advil. But it’s better to consult your doctor or pharmacist about your symptoms before you go cherry picking medicine in the drug store. Just saying.

Nurse Alice says that a hot water bottle helps to east cramps because the heat opens the blood vessels and improves blood flow, so the pain dissipates. She also says,

Take a hot bath, or place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower belly. Those stick-on heat packs that you can find on drugstore shelves can work, too, if you don’t have time to sit at home.

WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR

It's never okay to ignore the pain away if the above remedies does nothing to help you. If you feel that your cramps are more severe than normal, Nurse Alice says that it could be warning signs of a more serious health issue. Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your pain lasts longer than you're accustomed to
  • You have a fever
  • You start vomiting or feel nauseated.
  • You're bleeding heavy than normal.
  • You think you could be pregnant.

Nurse Alice Benjamin is a nationally board certified and award winning Cardiac Clinical Nurse Specialist with over a decade of experience in cardiovascular health. She is the author of “Curb Your Cravings: 31 Foods to Fool Your Appetite," a Senior Fellow at the Center of Health, Media and Policy at Hunter College in New York ,and recently joined the ShareCare family of top national media health experts. Some of her recent television appearances include The Dr. Oz Show, The Doctors, Dr Drew, HLN News Now, FOX News, TruTV In Session, America Live with Megyn Kelly, Dr. Steve Show and DC Breakdown. Visit her website at nursealicebenjamin.com.

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