Why You Should See Your Doctor When Experiencing Severe Period Cramps or Pain
Before you read this article, you should first read my more recent article called, "How can I reduce severe period pains and cramps?" This could well prevent you from worrying unnecessarily and taking up your doctor's valuable time without good reason.
For many years I suffered with the most terrible period pains. Every month I needed to take four days off work simply to curl up in a corner and wait for the pains to subside. It seemed conventional painkillers such as Paracetamol didn't make a lot of difference, and in any case they tended to make me feel sick, plus being really hard to swallow.
Numerous times I went to various doctors and explained the suffering I was going through, only to be told to go home and take, yes, you guessed it, a Paracetamol! I suspect that since most of them were men they merely took it as simply another female dealing with a few cramps each month and making too big a deal out of it.
It took over ten years for the real reason behind my agonising period pains to come to light. This was when I first went to a doctor to find out why I was failing to get pregnant with my first husband, who already had children of his own from a former marriage.
By this time I was about 26, and had been going through this pain since the age of 16 when my periods had first started.
The fertility specialist did an internal ultrasound, and then informed me that I had a 3 inch ovarian cyst on my right ovary, plus distinct signs of endometriosis. He arranged for me to go into the hospital to have the cyst, and as much of the endometriosis as possible, removed in the hope of improving my chances of conceiving. He also determined that I wasn't ovulating after taking various blood tests in the time leading up to the operation.
I looked into exactly what endometriosis was, and discovered it is when uterine tissue forms outside of the uterus for no reason that doctors can explain. This tissue follows the same cycle as the tissue within the uterus, so each month it builds up a fleshy blood-filled lining, before breaking down at the end of the cycle. The problem with endometriosis is that outside of the uterus there is nowhere for the blood and tissue to escape, hence the agonising cramps during the menstruation week.
This tissue has been found in all kinds of bizarre places in the body, including in the brain, rectum, and various organs.
The ovarian cyst too could be potentially dangerous if it grew too large and then burst, so it was important that this was removed as soon as possible. Cysts form naturally on the ovaries each month and usually burst to release an egg, but in certain cases they fail to burst, and simply keep on growing larger and larger, adding to the severity of the period pains each month.
There are various kinds of cysts that can also form on the ovaries such as:
- Follicular Cysts: These cysts form when the sac doesn't break open to release the egg. Then the sac keeps growing. This type of cyst most often goes away in one to three months.
- Corpus Luteum Cysts: These cysts form if the sac doesn't dissolve. Instead, the sac seals off after the egg is released. Then fluid builds up inside. Most of these cysts go away after a few weeks. They can grow to almost four inches. They may bleed or twist the ovary and cause pain. They are rarely cancerous. Some drugs used to cause ovulation, such as Clomid® or Serophene®, can raise the risk of getting these cysts.
- Endometriomas: These cysts form in women who have endometriosis. This problem occurs when tissue that looks and acts like the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. The tissue may attach to the ovary and form a growth. These cysts can be painful during sex and during your period.
- Cyst adenomas: These cysts form from cells on the outer surface of the ovary. They are often filled with a watery fluid or thick, sticky gel. They can become large and cause pain.
- Dermoid Cysts: These cysts contain many types of cells. They may be filled with hair, teeth, and other tissues that become part of the cyst. They can become large and cause pain.
- Polycistic Ovaries: These cysts are caused when eggs mature within the sacs but are not released. The cycle then repeats. The sacs continue to grow and many cysts form.
To say I felt angry was an understatement. I had gone through years of suffering that could have largely been avoided by much of the endometriosis being removed, or by at least being placed on prescription strength painkillers. Who knows how long the cyst had been there, but what I did know was I had been, and still was, experiencing all the classic symptoms of both problems. Yet, it wasn't until I needed fertility treatment that a doctor even suggested these possibilites.
The classic symptoms of both these conditions are listed below.
- Pressure, swelling, or pain in the abdomen
- Pelvic pain
- Dull ache in the lower back and thighs
- Problems passing urine completely
- Pain during sex
- Weight gain pain during your period
- Abnormal bleeding
- Nausea or vomiting
- Breast tenderness
- Pain before and during periods
- Pain with intercourse
- General, chronic pelvic pain throughout the month
- Lower back pain
- Heavy and/or irregular periods
- Painful bowel movements, especially during menstruation
- Painful urination during menstruation
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Low grade fevers
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Susceptibility to infections
Adhesion Being Cut
I did go into hospital for a week, and had both the cyst and some of the endometriosis removed, but it left me with a four inch scar across my bikini line, (over which I later had a tattoo done to cover up).
Some years later (after my first husband sadly died before we could further pursue fertility treatment), I was again told I had an ovarian cyst by a fertility specialist, only this time it was on my left ovary. He could also see signs of endometriosis on the ultrasound, so booked me in to remove the cyst, and run a dye test to see if my fallopian tubes were blocked.
By now the technique was far simpler and could be done as keyhole surgery and as a day patient. Hoping against hope that this time my problems would be solved, I went in for the operation.
I had to wait seven weeks for my follow up appointment, during which time I had no idea what the findings had been or what had been done.
Upon attending the second appointment the specialist didn't waste any time in telling me it was not good news. Apparently I had now developed severe adhesions within my whole reproductive system, and in places my other organs had even fused with my reproductive organs. He explained that these adhesions could have been caused by the endometriosis itself, or by an infection following the previous surgery. Unfortunately, they had been unable to find my ovaries through all the scar tissue, so could not tell if the dye passed successfully through the fallopian tubes or not. I don't even know if they found the cyst to remove it as I was too stunned by what he said next to think to ask the question.
He now felt it was extremely unlikely I would ever get pregnant without IVF, which is something my current husband Richard and I simply couldn't, and still can't, afford (not a good position to be in when you are already about to turn 39 years old).
Mefenamic Acid Tablets
On the plus side, I no longer get the severe period pains at all, mainly because a portion of the endometriosis was removed when I had the first operation. In addition, I can now obtain some fantastic tablets called 'Mefenamic Acid Tablets 500mg,' which are prescribed by my doctor. These tablets are specifically geared towards period pains and prevent the production of chemical irritants that cause much of the pain and inflammation in the body.
I urge anyone reading this who suffers with severe period pains to insist their doctor look into the possibility of either endometriosis or ovarian cysts. Although even after removal these problems can tend to return, the suffering will largely be reduced, and what is left can be helped with such tablets as I have suggested.
Most ovarian cysts are not life threatening, but there are some potential dangers in the event one ruptures, so don't delay getting any suspiciously severe pain investigated thoroughly.
In the event you are experiencing severe pains in your pelvis, abdomen, or sometimes even in your shoulder and neck, there may also be a risk of an ectopic pregnancy which truly is life-threatening and should never be ignored.
In the event you suspect any of the above please contact your doctor immediately.
Disclaimer: As with any online advice, this article is not meant to replace a consultation with a professional doctor, and if you are concerned about your period pains then my advice would always be to make an appointment with a physician as soon as you can.
Useful Link Regarding Ovarian Cysts
- Ovarian Cysts and Tumors - Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of Ovarian Cysts and Tumors from WebMD
WebMD provides a comprehensive look at ovarian cysts and tumors - their types and symptoms and how they are diagnosed and treated.