Painful Periods–Why Me?

We all know the dread that seeps in once cramps begin… time to endure yet another menstrual cycle. A common MRS (menstrual related symptom) is Dysmenorrhea, the medical term for menstrual cramps. Dysmenorrhea is due to strong uterine contractions induced by prostaglandins, a chemical found in the lining of the uterus. Cramping sensations can occur in the abdomen, hips, lower back, and inner thighs. As many of us have personally experienced or have good friends who tell us, dysmenorrhea can affect our personal and professional lives.  Some women just do less and others miss out on work or school altogether.

A recent study published in BMJ Open reports how the apparent discomfort of menstrual symptoms can cause a dip in productivity, an average of nine days annually. Out of 32,748 women ages 15-45, 13.8% reported absenteeism during their period with 3.4% having reporting absenteeism every cycle.  These results aren’t limited to the Netherlands, where the study took place, but is rather “universal”, as stated by Dr. Theodoor Nieboer, lead author and gynecologist at the Radboud University Medical Center. If you thought you were the only one missing work, you’re wrong.  This study shows that nearly 1 out of every 7 women have missed work for painful periods and 1/30 miss work regularly. 

Dysmenorrhea is frequent in more than one half of women who menstruate; however, the taboo that comes with talking about menstrual pain is still prevalent today. Only 20.1% have reported that they tell their employer or school that their absence is due to menstrual complaints. Due to the negative impact of menstruation on work efficiency, several countries such as Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan and China have policies offering menstrual leave to employed women. While there’s still a negative stigma associated with taking menstrual leave in a male dominated workplace, the policies enacted are a step in the right direction.

Do you need to see your doctor for Dysmenorrhea?

There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary dysmenorrhea.


Primary dysmenorrhea is very common and is defined as crampy or painful periods in the absence of any medical condition.  This usually presents in adolescence.  Seeking consultation with your OBGYN is always reasonable and if the pain/cramps are disruptive to your daily activities or achieving your life goals, a consultation can be life changing.


Secondary dysmenorrhea is pain caused by disorders in the reproductive system, including endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic infection and other disorders.   This usually occurs suddenly or over the course of just a few months in women with previously normal or tolerable periods.   If this occurs for more than 2-3 cycles, it is important to be evaluated by your OBGYN.  


El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems.   Drs. Amy TengErika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery.   Dr. Erika Balassiano has also completed a Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.


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