If you don’t experience uterine cramps during periods, you are among the luckiest women on the planet (at least when it comes to periods). Today we are going to talk about the majority of women, who experience cramps every single menstrual cycle. Particularly, we will try to understand when the cramps are normal, and when they are caused by uterine fibroids.
What are Menstrual Cramps?
To better understand uterine cramps, we should start with the menstruation cycle itself. The basic mechanics of periods are widely known, but what deserves our attention is the uterine lining, otherwise known as the endometrium. The endometrium plays a vital role in reproduction as embryos get attached to it during pregnancy.
Menstrual cramps are contractions of the uterus when trying to “push out” the endometrium. Why does it do it? Because each month, the uterus (supported by hormones) works hard to create the proper lining to [possibly] accommodate your fertilized egg. However, if no eggs get fertilized, your uterus decides to start all over again by getting rid of the existing endometrium and re-creating the “perfect” environment for the next egg that might get fertilized and become an embryo.
By contracting, the uterus “sheds” the inner layer (the endometrium), and you feel cramps. This is a natural process, and there is nothing to be worried about. The degree of pain varies, but it should never be so unbearable that it makes you nauseous.
Painful Periods or Dysmenorrhea
Painful periods, including uterine cramps, are also called dysmenorrhea. There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. To understand the difference between the two of them, you need to remember how your menstrual pain responds to treatment.
- Pain that can be managed with pain medication or hormones (birth control pills) is normally related to primary dysmenorrhea, which is considered normal.
- Pain that cannot be managed or tolerated signals the presence of secondary dysmenorrhea and needs to be addressed. Although the most common reason for secondary dysmenorrhea is endometriosis, today we are focusing on uterine fibroids that likewise can cause severe period pain.
How Do Uterine Fibroids Cause Uterine Cramps?
Uterine fibroids are benign tumors made up of smooth muscle and fibrous tissue. A woman can have a single or multiple fibroids. Their weight and size can be different.
Uterine fibroids can be found in the uterus, outside of it, or within the muscular wall of the uterus. The location of fibroids determines their type: submucosal, intramural, subserosal, and pedunculated. Submucosal fibroids are the least common. Submucosal fibroids grow just underneath the uterine lining.
Fibroid cramps are typically caused by the uterus trying to force out a submucosal fibroid. This can happen anytime during a menstrual cycle.
These tumors often contribute to heavy and long menstruations and other more serious complications, such as blockage of the fallopian tubes leading to infertility.
How Do I Know I Have Fibroids?
Although some women with fibroids are asymptomatic, many experience fibroid symptoms that include but are not limited to:
- heavy painful and unusually long periods;
- pain or pressure in the pelvic area, which can radiate to the lower back, buttocks, and legs;
- an enlarged stomach that makes you look pregnant;
- frequent urination or in some cases incontinence;
- pain during intercourse.
The best way to diagnose uterine fibroids is to do an MRI. This imaging exam provides high-resolution images of your pelvic area and does not leave fibroids undetected as opposed to an ultrasound examination which has a much lower resolution and significantly underestimates the number of fibroids that a woman has in her uterus. If you have fibroids, your next step is to do a thorough research and to analyze ALL available treatment options, not just the surgical ones that are often recommended to women with fibroids as their only options.
The Nonsurgical Fibroid Treatment Option You May Be Looking for
For the past 25 years, a nonsurgical approach called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) has been available, but most women suffering from fibroids have never heard about it. Uterine Fibroid Embolization is an outpatient procedure that treats all fibroids and respective fibroid symptoms very effectively. In most cases, UFE does not leave a chance for fibroids to recur and does not affect your fertility; you get to keep your uterus intact, without surgical cuts and post-surgery scarring that can affect your fertility.
During the UFE procedure, you will be asleep and feel no pain. It takes about 30-45 minutes to perform. After the procedure, some women experience cramps (like heavy menstrual cramps), but it usually lasts for a short period of time and can be managed with medication. Compared to surgery, the recovery period is very short (on average, a week), and after that, patients go back to their normal lives.
On the Atlanta Fibroid Center YouTube channel, we have dozens of patients’ UFE stories. Dr. John Lipman is the Founder & Medical Director of the Center and has one of the world’s largest UFE experience. His patients often describe the Uterine Fibroid Embolization procedure as life-changing and helped them get their lives back with severe uterine cramps and other fibroid symptoms left behind forever
If you are suffering from severe period pain and suspect you may have fibroids, learn more about fibroids and UFE from one of the top experts in the country Dr. John Lipman. Please call Atlanta Fibroid Center at 770-214-4600 or make an appointment online.