What Is Secondary Dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea – or painful cramping associated with a menstrual flow – is something that many women have to deal with each month. These cramps can be something as simple as a dull ache but may be more severe where a woman is actually in so much pain she can’t function in her daily life. Regardless of which you call it, cramps or dysmenorrhea, women want to know what causes them and how they can treat them so they can get on with their lives.

There are two forms of dysmenorrhea, primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is characterized by severe lower abdominal cramping that is so bad women miss millions of hours of school and work each year. Doctors believe primary dysmenorrhea is caused by an imbalance in the hormone called prostaglandin which is responsible for making the uterus contract so the lining of the uterus is expelled during a normal menstrual cycle. The problem comes when too much prostaglandin is produced, which causes the severe cramping women feel.

Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, describes the painful cramping linked to physical problems not associated with menstruation. This could be caused by:

* Ovarian cysts, fibroids, and cervical or uterine polyps which are benign (non-cancerous) growths along the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or within the pelvic area.

* Infections within the pelvis which may be caused by sexually transmitted diseases or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

* Endometriosis which is a condition where the cells from lining of the uterus grow outside of the abdominal cavity. Adenomyosis is the same type of cells which grow into the uterine wall.

* Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for a contraceptive. This may occur during the first couple of months of use but should decline the longer you use the IUD. You may need to have your IUD removed if painful menstrual cramping continues or gets worse.

* Congenital problems including a tilted uterus or narrowing of the cervix which have been present at birth.

* Problems associated with pregnancy such as miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.

Treatment for dysmenorrhea is determined by your gynecologist and will be made by considering the following factors: your overall health, age, and medical history, whether you have primary or secondary dysmenorrhea, what type of medication, therapy, or medications you can tolerate, the expected course the condition will follow, and your preferences.

You may be prescribed a prostaglandin inhibitor which reduces pain and are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) in nature. Some of these include aspirin or ibuprofen. If the pain is severe, they may prescribe a higher strength NSAID than what can be obtained over the counter. Oral contraceptives are another option your doctor may recommend because if they can inhibit ovulation, you won’t have the pain associated with it.

Doctors may also recommend progesterone hormone therapy, vitamin supplements, placing a heating pad across the abdomen, regular exercise, abdominal massage, or dietary modifications. Many women will take a pain reliever to try to ease the pain associated with their monthly cycle, but if the pain is very strong or occurs at times other than when you’re menstruating, it may be time to seek medical help.

There’s no reason you, or any woman you know, should have to experience the painful cramping known as secondary dysmenorrhea. Now you know what it is, some of the causes, and some of the treatments, you can speak with your doctor in an informed manner and take control of ending this condition once and for all.