During each menstrual cycle, a woman’s uterine lining (endometrium) prepares itself to nourish a fetus.
Some women get through their monthly periods easily and experience only a minor inconvenience out of it. But other women experience a range of both physical and emotional symptoms right before or during their menstruation. These symptoms could be anything between heavy bleeding and missed periods to uncontrollable mood swings or other disorders that can interrupt the daily life of a woman in many ways.
Here are some of the most common disorders that some women experience during their menstrual cycles:
1. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) features a set of psychological and physical symptoms that occur during menstruation. During this time, a woman may experience great discomfort that interferes with their daily activities. The symptoms could last from a few hours to many days and their severity differs with each individual.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
PMDD is a more severe form of PMS that affects 3-8% of women who are of reproductive age. If one has PMDD, immediate treatment is required. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that 85% of women experience at least one common symptom associated with PMS during their reproductive years. And about 5% of those women experience such extreme symptoms that they become disabled.
The most common symptoms of PMS include:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (bloating)
- Psychological symptoms (depression, irritability, anxiety)
- Fluid retention (swelling of fingers, ankles, and feet)
- Skin problems (acne)
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle spasms
- Eye infections
- Vision problems
- Diminished libido (sex drive)
- Decreased coordination
- Hot flashes
- Changes in appetite
2. Dysmenorrhea (Painful Menstruation)
Dysmenorrhea refers to frequent and severe menstrual cramps and pain that occurs during menstruation. The cause of this condition depends on whether it is primary or secondary.
In primary dysmenorrhea, women experience abnormal uterine contractions that are caused by a chemical imbalance in the body. Secondary dysmenorrhea is the result from other medical conditions, most often endometriosis. Other causes may include:
- uterine fibroids
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- infection, tumors, or polyps in the pelvic cavity
- abnormal pregnancy (i.e., miscarriage, ectopic)
Although any woman can get dysmenorrhea, those who are at greater risk include:
- Women who take plenty of alcohol during their period
- Women who menstruate before the age of 11
- Overweight women
Common dysmenorrhea symptoms include:
- Low back pain or pain that goes down the legs
- Cramping or pain in the lower abdomen
3. Menorrhagia (Heavy Menstrual Bleeding)
This is the most common type of abnormal uterine bleeding that is also known as heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding. In a few cases, the bleeding may be so severe that regular activities of women are disrupted.
There are other types of heavy menstrual or dysfunctional uterine bleeding, such as:
- Polymenorrhea: Too frequent menstruation
- Oligomenorrhea: Light or infrequent menstrual cycles
- Metrorrhagia: This is any type of irregular or non-menstrual bleeding that occurs during menstrual periods.
- Postmenopausal bleeding: This type of bleeding occurs more than one year after the last normal menstrual period at menopause.
To learn more about infrequent periods, click here.
Common symptoms of menorrhagia are when a woman soaks enough sanitary napkins or tampons to require changing after an hour, or when her period lasts longer than a week. Other symptoms may include spotting or bleeding between menstrual cycles or bleeding during pregnancy.
Diagnosing Menstrual Disorders
If you experience any of the previously mentioned symptoms, it is best to see your doctor right away. They will let you know if the severity of these symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them. Be sure to make some notes about how regular you’ve been experiencing these symptoms so that your doctor can give you a proper diagnosis.
Besides a physical exam, your doctor may also conduct a pelvic exam. This exam allows your doctor to inspect your reproductive organs to determine whether or not your cervix or vagina are inflamed. A Pap smear will also determine the possibility of cancer or other underlying conditions.
Blood tests can help identify if hormonal imbalances have been the cause of your menstrual problems. If you think you may be pregnant, your doctor or nurse may perform a blood or urine pregnancy test during your visit.
Other tests that can determine the cause of your menstrual disorders include:
- Hysteroscopy: A small camera gets inserted into your uterus, through the vagina to look for any abnormalities.
- Endometrial Biopsy: Tissue samples from the uterine lining are removed with a needle or during surgery.
- Ultrasound: An imaging technique that uses high-frequency waves to create an image of your pelvic organs.
- Dilation and curettage (D&C): This surgery uses a dilator to widen the cervical canal and a curette to scrape the uterine cavity.
Treatments for Menstrual Disorders
Once the symptoms of whichever menstrual you have, have been diagnosed, your doctor may recommend any of the following treatments:
- Prostaglandin inhibitors
- Oral contraceptives
- Hormone supplements
- Vitamin or mineral supplements
- Dietary modifications
- Regular exercise