Don't Let Pelvic Pain Cramp Your Style
Andrew Shoemaker, MD, with LVPG Obstetrics and Gynecology, shares what every woman should know about pelvic pain
BY KATIE CAVENDER
Many women dread the week of their period because it's accompanied by pelvic pain. “It can be normal to have some pain and cramping with your menstrual cycle,” says Andrew Shoemaker, MD, with LVPG Obstetrics and Gynecology. “But some women experience more cramping and pain than expected.”
Relief from the period blues
The good news about menstrual cramps is that there are ways to find relief, including:
Over-the-counter medications – Try taking ibuprofen or naproxen. You can start taking these medications two days prior to the start of your period to ward off pain before it begins.
Apply heat – Heating your lower abdomen can help relax your muscles and increase blood flow to relieve pain.
Stay hydrated – Dehydration can increase your discomfort and make cramps more intense, so make sure to drink water regularly.
Exercise and a low-fat diet – That’s right, a healthy lifestyle can decrease the pain you feel during menstruation. Try adding physical activity into your routine 3-5 times per week.
Supplements – There is some data that shows supplements like vitamin B1, fish oil and ginger may have a helpful effect.
Talk to your doctor – Have a discussion with your gynecologist to identify the right treatment for you. Many people benefit from hormonal therapies like birth control pills, an intrauterine device (IUD) or a Depo-Provera shot.
When cramps are a sign of something else
Sometimes, the pelvic pain a woman feels is a sign of another issue. Other common causes of abdominal pain include gastrointestinal issues or other gynecologic ailments, such as:
Infection – A urinary tract infection, bladder infection or pelvic inflammatory disease can all cause pain. These types of infections can make it painful to urinate and can cause a fever.
Ovarian cysts – Ovarian cysts are fluid filled pockets that develop on an ovary. Many times, the pain will occur during ovulation (around day 14 of your menstrual cycle). If the cyst is large enough, you may experience pain more frequently.
Fibroids – These non-cancerous growths are associated with a feeling of fullness or pressure. Menopause decreases the risk for fibroids.
Endometriosis – This is when the tissue that normally grows on the inside of your uterus begins to grow on the outside. The most common symptoms of endometriosis are painful periods, pain during intercourse and pain during urination.
Ovarian cancer – Early stage ovarian cancer is usually not accompanied by any symptoms. This is one reason why a yearly annual exam is so important. When symptoms do develop, women tend to have a loss of appetite, get full quickly after a small meal, unexplained bloating and weight loss.
Keep a diary
Shoemaker recommends keeping a menstrual diary. “Keep track of your bleeding, if it’s regular, heavy or light, and when you experience pain. It can help in narrowing down a diagnosis,” he says. If you have severe pain (e.g. doubled over, nausea, vomiting), go to the emergency room right away.
“If the pain is lasting over many days or weeks, you’ve tried over-the-counter medications and you aren’t finding relief, give your primary care provider or gynecologist a call,” Shoemaker says. “If it's affecting your quality of life, you’re missing work or school, that's not normal.”
It’s also critical to not miss your annual gynecologic exam. Every woman age 18 through 65 should have a yearly exam. It’s the only way to assess for ovarian or vulvar cancer. To find a gynecologist near you, visit LVHN.org/findadoc.