While some discomfort is to be expected during a period, frequent and severe cramps that get in the way of daily tasks are considered a condition named dysmenorrhea. The pain is the result of abnormal contraction in the uterus, and as a condition, it’s very common. Curing it has proven difficult, largely due to the fact that its occurrence is probably the result of a multitude of factors. Everything from hormonal imbalances to preexisting conditions has the potential to trigger dysmenorrhea, including endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory diseases, and tumors, to name a few.
Now, for the first time, research has unearthed a new culprit: air pollution. Published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, the study found that long-term exposure to pollution had a marked association with increased rates of dysmenorrhea. While the exact mechanism behind the contributing factor isn’t yet known, it’s possible that air pollution may lead to increased rates of hormone-like chemical signals in the body or emotional distress.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers of the study reviewed the medical records of 296,078 women and girls aged between 16 and 55 years old. Taken from Taiwan, the records represented approximately 1.3 percent of the population, and looked only at patients who had not reported symptoms of dysmenorrhea before the year 2000.
From this data, combined with information about environmental air pollutants over time, the researchers were able to search for long-term associations between the risk of dysmenorrhea and air pollutant concentrations including nitrogen oxide (NOx), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and PM2.5s, that is, particles smaller than 2.5 μm in diameter.
Their results showed that there were high rates of dysmenorrhea among women exposed to high concentrations of NO, NO2, NOx, CO, and PM2.5, becoming the first study to identify an association between air pollution and severely painful periods. The authors note that because of this, they can’t cite any scientific material to support their association, but that air pollution can be linked to certain conditions is certainly not unheard of. Previous research has linked air pollutants to a variety of health problems and last year, for the first time, air pollution was recorded as the leading cause of death for a 9-year-old.
The study found that from 2000 to 2013, dysmenorrhea was diagnosed among 4.2 percent of the cohort for the first time. Those affected tended to be younger women living in urbanized areas and with lower incomes. The researchers also ascertained a “hazard ratio” to link up the cohorts’ ages with the year and its recorded air quality, which revealed that dysmenorrhea rates jumped up to a third in areas with the highest yearly air pollutant concentrations. While the individual pollutants carried different degrees of significance, what was found to be a leading factor was the longevity of a woman’s exposure to these increased rates.
"Our results demonstrate the major impact of the quality of air on human health in general, here specifically on the risk of dysmenorrhea in women and girls,” study author Prof Chung Y. Hsu from the College of Medicine at China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan said in a statement. “This is a clear illustration of the need for actions by governmental agencies and citizens to reduce air pollution, in order to improve human health.”