At 15 years old I remember asking myself, “Is this what they mean by menstrual ‘cramps’?” The term ‘cramp’ just seemed too mild to explain the horrid, 1 or 2 day experience, which regularly preceded the start of my monthly period. Back pain, ‘front’ pain, nausea, and sweats…felt more like a suffering from the flu…with an elephant stepping on my back!... than what I’d describe as menstrual ‘cramps’. The usual ‘mother’s home remedies’ like a heating pad, hot tea, or over-the-counter pain reliever, hardly ever seemed to do enough, but I adhered to the regimen every month anyway…What else was I going to do?
As a Gynecologist, I now know the significance of the menstrual ‘cramps’. In our rhythmic, monthly, hormonal cycle, and in response to the rise in our ovarian hormones (estrogen and progesterone), our ovaries form the ‘dominant follicle’, which releases the fertilizable egg for that month. At the same time, the uterine lining develops a thick, shaggy layer (like a shag carpet) to enhance implantation of a fertilized egg (egg fertilized by a male sperm=pregnancy.) On the other hand, if no egg fertilization occurs (no pregnancy), the ovarian hormones decline, allowing for release/shedding of the previously developed thickened uterine lining tissue (representing our ‘menstrual flow’), and the obvious sign of menstrual bleeding.
I often jokingly comment to my patients, “No matter what our skin color is on the outside, We’re all the same color on the ‘inside’…literally.” And it’s the truth. From an anatomical perspective, our inner organs are all the same color, despite skin color or race!