You wake up in the morning and before you even get out of bed, you know that you’ve started your period. The main clue is the cramping in your lower abdomen and/or lower back. Approximately, 80% of all women will experience some period pain in their lifetime. Around 11% of women experience period pain on a regular basis as a result of endometriosis. Keep reading for an overview of period cramps vs. endometriosis.
Period Pain Is Not Normal
Every woman experiences the menstrual cycle differently. Some women have no pain at all. Some only suffer from mild cramps every once in a while, while others will have extremely painful cramps that may last for days with every single period. If cramps are a normal part of your period, it is important not to ignore them because they might be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as endometriosis. Regardless of the cause of the pain, it’s important to know that period pains are not normal contrary to popular belief.
Understanding Your Period
For most girls, menarche (the first period) occurs between the ages of 9 and 15. After menarche takes place, menses repeats every month until you go through menopause. That adds up to a total of approximately 450-500 periods in a lifetime! On average, a menstrual cycle lasts anywhere from 21 to 35 days. The first day of your period marks the start of a new cycle, and periods last on average between 2 to 7 days.
Each month, your menstrual cycle is your body’s way of preparing for a potential pregnancy. If pregnancy does not take place, then you have a period, and your cycle begins anew.
Causes and Symptoms of Cramps vs. Endometriosis
During menses, you bleed as a result of your uterus contracting to shed the endometrial lining. These contractions can cause inflammation in addition to lower abdominal and back pain. This is what you experience as menstrual cramps. Other symptoms associated with periods include cravings, mood swings, bloating, and fatigue. Symptoms will vary from woman to woman.
Menstrual cramps usually start a couple of days before the start of your period and can last for a couple of days after it begins.
Sometimes, menstrual cramps are caused by an abnormal growth in your reproductive organs. These growths fall into three main categories: fibroids, cysts, and polyps.
Fibroids, Cysts, & Polyps
Fibroids are benign growths formed on uterine muscle tissue. Most women will have at least one fibroid in their life, and they generally do not cause any serious problems. Cysts are fluid-filled growths that usually form on the ovaries. They tend to cause the most pain out of the three types of growths, and can potentially be cancerous. Polyps are growths that form in the lining of the uterus. Polyps start out as benign but can become cancerous over time.
Seeing a doctor about your menstrual discomfort is important to determine the root of the problem.
Endometriosis is a gynecological disorder that affects 1 out of 10 women in their reproductive years. When you have endometriosis, the tissue that lines the uterus called the endometrium proliferates and grows outside the uterus. Unfortunately, the cause of endometriosis is not known, but genetics, hormones, and faulty immune systems are three hypotheses for the condition.
Symptoms vary but can include:
- Cramping, and pelvic, lower abdominal or lower back pain before and/or during your menstrual cycle.
- Pain with sexual intercourse.
- Excessive bleeding during or between periods.
- Nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation that is worse during your period.
Endometriosis usually develops a few years after menarche. The condition will disappear temporarily with pregnancy and end completely with menopause.
Treatment of Cramps vs. Endometriosis
Depending on the cause, the treatment for period cramps is relatively simple. Over-the-counter pain medicines, heating pads, and gentle exercise can alleviate mild to moderate cramps.
Pain medicines can also be used to treat endometriosis, but oftentimes endometriosis requires hormone therapy or surgery.
Your doctor will work with you to find the best treatment for you based on the severity of your symptoms. Treatment may include:
- Hormonal birth control.
- Danazol, which slows down endometrium growth.
- Surgery to remove excess endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
- Hysterectomy for severe cases.
When To See a Doctor
There are several signs to indicate what you are experiencing is not related to menstrual pain. Visiting a doctor is important if your period cramps:
- Keep you from engaging in your normal everyday activities.
- Cause you to be nauseated and throw up.
- Go hand-in-hand with heavy bleeding.
If you have consistent pain the week before your period begins that continues throughout your entire period, it might be caused by endometriosis. Excessive or unusual bleeding that goes along with the pain can also point to endometriosis. Signs of abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding include:
- Bleeding lasting longer than a week.
- Changing your pad or tampon every hour.
- Having to wear more than one pad to control leakage.
- Passing blood clots that are quarter-sized or bigger.
Living with severe pain and excessive bleeding every month is not necessary. Schedule a consultation at The Woman’s Clinic to find out if your pain and bleeding are caused by endometriosis.
The Woman’s Clinic
Now that you know the difference between period cramps vs. endometriosis, partner with our doctors at The Woman’s Clinic to determine whether your cramps are an indication of a more serious condition such as endometriosis or something else.
Call us today at 501-664-4131 to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified doctors, or contact us online. We take pride in providing the highest quality of medical care to women in Little Rock, Arkansas.