Teenager Period Cramps: How Much Pain Alerts to Medical Conditions?

By Fertility Advocate Jennifer Jay Palumbo

Let’s get serious, shall we? In my years writing about infertility and health conditions, I have heard countless stories of women telling their doctors that their cramps or periods are excruciating, only to be dismissed. “Take an over-the-counter medication,” or “Use a heating pad,” or “That’s just having your period… what can I tell you,” is the only response they get.

Around 190 million menstruating adults and adolescents worldwide have endometriosis, which causes chronic pelvic pain due to tissues that resemble uterine lining growing outside the uterus.

What is more disconcerting is that 38% of people with endometriosis perceive the symptoms before the age of 15, and given that it might take up to 11 years to confirm the diagnosis, adolescents might have to live with crippling pain, nausea, and other related symptoms without receiving proper help.

Therefore, Dr. Snieguole Martinkiene, Lithuania-based OB/GYN, emphasized that painful periods are not something to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, in certain cases, severe pain might be more than a usual accompanying symptom and point to serious medical issues.

And speaking as someone who went on to have fertility issues, perhaps addressing these cramps when you’re a teenager can help indicate how proactive you’ll need to be when you’re ready to try and conceive.

Period Stigma Conditions Teenagers to Hide Menstrual Pain

Negative associations surrounding periods may prevent menstruating people, adolescents included, from sharing concerns about their period pain. When afflicted by severe period pains, 62% of menstruating people do not seek medical advice because of the lack of open conversations about what kind of pain is normal during periods. Following in the steps of adults in their environment, teenagers might also downplay their period pains.

However, the issue goes beyond simply getting a diagnosis. For example, a recent study determined a significant link between endometriosis and early menopause, suggesting that teenagers with endometriosis are at higher risk of encountering fertility issues later in life.

For this reason, Dr. Martinkiene advised all adolescents with debilitating menstrual pain to speak up immediately to speed up the diagnosis and potential treatment because endometriosis affects physical and psychosocial health.

“There are several symptoms that might point towards endometriosis diagnosis: debilitating menstrual pain, chronic pelvic pain for more than six months, irregular spotting, bloating, chronic fatigue,” Dr. Martinkiene said. “The cells that constitute the uterine mucosa tend to multiply and form endometrial foci, making the illness progress over four stages. The more advanced the stage, the more likely endometriosis might cause infertility and other health issues. That is why early diagnosis can prevent the spread of the illness.”

A specialist would perform an extensive gynecological exam and ultrasonography to determine the cause of the symptoms. In the case of endometriosis, long-term treatment will be prescribed.

There are also different types of menstrual pain—dysmenorrhea, the OB/GYN explained.

“Primary dysmenorrhea, a non-pathological one, is caused by the intensive synthesis of prostaglandins during adolescence. As a result, the uterus starts contracting, which produces lower abdominal and back pains, nausea, diarrhea on the first days of the period,” Dr. Martinkiene said. “However, secondary dysmenorrhea is triggered by reproductive organ pathology—endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, polyps, etc. Although teenagers are often diagnosed with primary dysmenorrhea, more and more young adults suffer from the secondary one.”

Expert-approved Period Pain Management Techniques for Adolescents

Vilmante Markeviciene, founder of Genial Day, a woman-owned company focused on personal health and conscious period products, agreed with Dr. Martinkiene that severe pains experienced by teenagers should not be dismissed.

“Adolescents tend to suffer from more painful periods because of fluctuating hormones. Nonetheless, normal period pains should not cause missing out on school or other daily activities, and they should subside with usual pain-relief medication,” the expert said. “If a teenager has throbbing, burning, searing, or stabbing pain, this calls for an urgent medical check-up.”

Markeviciene offered some tips for adolescents to ease up normal cramps.

“First of all, young adults, who have just started menstruating, want to create a menstrual routine consisting of a healthy diet, light exercise, and comfortable products. Inflammatory foods, such as carbohydrates, sugar, dairy, meat, might exacerbate bloating and discomfort during those days. Therefore my advice would be to cut them out or reduce their intake during the first days of the period,” Markeviciene suggested. “Teenagers should also learn to drink plenty of water and consume foods rich in omega acids, vitamin A, zinc, and magnesium,” Markeviciene suggested.

Since one-third of menstruating adolescents tend to miss classes or sports because of their periods, the expert also encouraged them to look for options to help continue with their regular activities.

“I would like to assure teenagers who are experiencing heavy periods that they can and should participate in sports and lead an active social life despite their menstruation. If they are worried about possible leaks, I advise them to look for more absorbent products or use them together. For example, period cups with pads or period panties to ensure that they can go about their day without any fear,” Markeviciene added.

Given the severity of such a debilitating condition as endometriosis, both experts urged to immediately consult medical professionals if teenagers’ daily life is severely affected by intense period pains.

In short, speak up and advocate for yourself!

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