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This site is designed to support and expand the Hillendale Health Curriculum.

Learning about how your body grows and develops and how to take care of your body is an important part of Hillendale Health class. The following information deals with the changes that occur to a girl's body especially the reproductive system as girls go through puberty. Find information by reading the information below or click on the contents button to look for answers to specific questions.

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Female Reproductive System

What about cramps?

More than half of menstruating women have cramp-like pain during their periods. The medical term for menstrual pain is dysmenorrhea. Cramps are usually felt in the pelvic area and lower abdomen, but can radiate to the lower back or down the legs.


Menstrual Cycle



Mechanically, cramps are like labor pains. Just as the uterus contracts to open up the cervix (neck of the uterus) and push out a baby, it contracts to expel menstrual blood. Often, after several years of menstruating or after childbirth, the cervical opening enlarges. The uterus doesn't have to contract as much to discharge the menstrual flow, so there is less cramping.

Menstrual pain may also come from the bleeding process itself. When the uterine lining separates from the wall, it releases chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins cause blood vessels to narrow, impeding the supply of oxygen to the uterus. Just as the pain of a heart attack comes from insufficient blood to the muscles of the heart, too little blood to the uterine muscle might cause the pain of menstrual cramps.

Pain, pain, go away...

Sometimes, simple measures are all that's needed to feel better. Cutting down on salt might help reduce fluid buildup, and support hose may alleviate swelling in the legs or ankles. Crawling into bed for some extra rest or sleep is one way to deal with fatigue, and taking along a heating pad or hot water bottle eases cramps for some. Exercising also helps reduce pain in many young women, and may lift a blue mood as well.

Charles Debrovner, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine, explains that exercising during menstruation lessens pain because it causes release of brain chemicals called endorphins, which are natural painkillers. He says exercise may also decrease pain by affecting prostaglandin metabolism. Lisa Rarick, M.D., a gynecologist in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research adds that exercise may also help because it increases blood flow, and because it "just makes a lot of people feel better in general."

If symptoms interfere with work, school or sleep, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends seeing a doctor, who may suggest taking one or more medicines.

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