Dysmenorrhea is the clinical term for painful cramps, which can occur a few days prior to or during one’s period. There are two types of dysmenorrhea, primary & secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is used to define painful cramps when no other diseases or disorders pertaining to the reproductive organs exist. Secondary dysmenorrhea is typically caused by something else happening in the uterus or ovaries, such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or fibroids. (source)
It is often hard to tell what is considered seriously painful cramps. However, if your cramps are impacting your day-to-day life and preventing your regular function, it should be cause for concern. It is suggested that if you experience extremely painful cramps for more than three days you should seek help from a medical professional. Additionally, if your cramps cause vomiting, nausea, faintness, fever, or migraines, you could potentially be suffering from primary or secondary dysmenorrhea.
There are multiple treatments that your doctors may suggest depending on your symptoms and the severity of them. One of the most typical treatments is the implementation of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAID treatment. These work to inhibit the production of and release of prostaglandins, which are what cause the uterus to contract in such a painful way. Oral contraceptives have also been prescribed to those suffering from dysmenorrhea and have shown a 90% effectiveness rate.
Your doctor may suggest an ultrasound or pelvic floor exam. These procedures can be somewhat invasive. However, they can help your doctor gain a better understanding of what is going on inside your body. In serious cases, doctors may need to do a small procedure called a laparoscopy to get a proper view of the reproductive organs. This requires a small incision on the abdomen and a small camera inserted to view the inside. A laparoscopy is only implemented in serious cases. Do not go into your appointment thinking that your doctor will have to cut you open to know what’s going on.
It is important to open up the discussion around painful periods and all of the harrowing experiences that menstruating people have to go through to deal with them. Most people who experience intense period pain hardly bring it up, which means it's hardly ever talked about. If there were less stigma around having open conversations about our periods, perhaps there would be more social awareness of things such as dysmenorrhea.
If you are still feeling unsure about whether you have dysmenorrhea or how you should begin to seek help, there are countless resources online to help you get started. For example, it helps to read about it directly from the sources of gynecologists and obstetricians. This website offers some insight as well as some answers to some frequently asked questions.
It also helps to engage in conversation about it with other people who have experienced similar things as you. There are countless forums online which speak about womxn’s issues and shared experiences that come with having female reproductive organs. The Reddit thread r/TwoXChromosomes allows women, non-binary folk, and anyone who identifies as a woman to speak about their issues directly and somewhat anonymously. This can be a great help to anyone who does not have other people in their life who are experiencing issues similar to dysmenorrhea. Have a look around the internet, and you will realize you are never truly alone with these types of issues.