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Primary dysmenorrhea is a type of menstruation specifically triggered by excess prostaglandins and characterized by extreme pain and cramping. Prostaglandins are present in every woman who menstruates. These chemical compounds, which act like hormones, are necessary to make the womb lightly contract so that the blood-filled uterine lining can be shed every 28 days as part of the menstrual cycle. When too many prostaglandins are produced, the contractions and cramps are so strong they cause discomfort and severe pain resulting in primary dysmenorrhea. This type of dysmenorrhea is distinct from secondary dysmenorrhea, which is caused by disease or trauma in the pelvic region.
Doctors have not fully discovered what makes the uterus produce the overabundance of prostaglandins that are responsible for causing primary dysmenorrhea. In addition to contributing to back and stomach pain, the condition can also reduce or halt circulation in most blood vessels serving the uterus. Additional side effects associated with primary dysmenorrhea include vomiting, migraines, and fainting. Diarrhea and an overall sense of exhaustion are also possible.
There are natural and pharmaceutical remedies to relieve the pain of primary dysmenorrhea. Some women use heating pads to ease cramps in the lower back and pelvic region. Others employ vitamin C from foods like grapefruits, oranges or red and yellow bell peppers to mitigate pain. Those preferring supplemental vitamin C typically aim for at least 1,000 mg a day a few days before the menstrual cycle and throughout its duration. Other vitamins which nutritionists recommend for relief from primary dysmenorrhea include vitamin E and vitamin B6.
Prescriptive medications designed to stem dysmenorrhea by lowering the body’s prostaglandin levels and balancing hormones in the body are available. Birth control pills or injections, for example, are frequently prescribed to lower production of prostaglandin. For heavy-duty pain relief, the prescription drug naproxen sodium is frequently used. Anti-inflammatory substances such as aspirin or tablets containing ibuprofen are the most common drug store medications that can be purchased without prescription for moderate pain relief.
Some medical centers estimate that as many as 50 percent of all women can suffer from primary dysmenorrhea, with approximately 10 percent experiencing excruciating levels of suffering. Symptoms frequently begin during the adolescent years and can last, for some women, until menopause. Those with recurring bouts of dysmenorrhea have the condition for roughly three days at a time. Sometimes blood clots are passed during dysmenorrhea. Doctors say that primary dysmenorrhea is linked only to menstrual cycles where ovulation has occurred.