When a young woman starts her cycle, it's not always easy. Sometimes, in fact, the transition to womanhood can be very painful. Relatively few teenagers have normal, regular periods when they first begin.
“Actually, one of the most frequent things we see in patients in our adolescent gynecology clinic is girls who are having very heavy, very painful periods,” said Dr. Judith Scott, a gynecologist at Methodist Physicians Clinic Women's Center. “It all has to do with hormones and getting the brain and the body working in sync.”
Dysmenorrhea is that recurrent, crampy lower abdominal pain which happens during menstruation. It's the most common gynecologic complaint among adolescent girls. One study in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine showed nearly 80 percent of teens experience heavy, painful periods. Sometimes that pain can be debilitating.
“A lot of times the periods are really heavy because of the immaturity of their access of their brain – the brain talking to their ovaries, talking to their uterus – that hypothalamic axis,” Scott said. “Over time, that connection gets more mature and everything becomes more efficient and they ovulate more regularly, hopefully bringing less pain and flow.”
Here are some tips to overcome menstrual pain from Scott and the specialists at the Methodist Women's Center Adolescent Gynecology clinic:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help provide some relief from the cramping and discomfort.
Birth control pills. The same hormones that help prevent pregnancy can also ease the severity of monthly menstrual cramps. The pill contains estrogen and progesterone hormones that prevent ovulation and eases period flow. These hormones also can be delivered by an injection, a patch, or an implant placed under the skin of the arm.
An intrauterine device (IUD). An intrauterine contraceptive device called the IUD is also an option if the teen is sexually active. This small t-shaped device is placed in the uterus and slowly releases a progestogen hormone which 'thins' the lining of the uterus and decreases bleeding.
Warmth. Many people suffering from severe menstrual cramping find it soothing to hold a hot water bottle or heating pad against the lower abdomen. A hot bath or shower may also help.
Surgery. It's rare, but some painful periods are caused by endometriosis or congenital uterine anomalies. An ultrasound can help your gynecologist determine if they are part of the problem. If so, removing the abnormal tissue surgically may help reduce the symptoms.
To learn more about adolescent gynecology services at Methodist Physicians Clinic Women's Center visit www.mpcadolgyn.com.