Painful Periods and What You Can Do

Each month, many women suffer some form of discomfort with menstruation, and others suffer debilitating pain. For some, cramping during a period can be more than just annoying.

The official medical term for painful period cramps is dysmenorrhea, and for most women, this type of menstrual pain is considered primary (meaning there is no other underlying condition causing the cramps). The good news is that great strides have been made in women’s health over the last decade, and there are many options for defusing this monthly time bomb.

Understanding what is happening and why your body is cramping is part of understanding how to remedy the situation. Better still, knowing the inner workings of your body can help you to plan ahead and adjust your habits so your periods are less severe when they happen. The following information can help you to learn more about what happens when your body has a period and what you can do to stop period cramping before and after it happens.

Watch What You Eat

A study from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) concluded that reducing your consumption of processed foods, fatty foods and meat products at least a few weeks before your period correlated with a dramatic reduction in painful period symptoms. According to the research, the best diet for decreasing cramp pain is a low-fat vegetarian diet.

Related Article: A Guide to Diet and Nutrition

Start by choosing dairy with less fat content in it. Try to get at least 35 percent of your calories from eating vegetables, nuts and fish. The reason this diet works is because it reduces the increase of estrogen in your body’s normal cycle. It is the estrogen and prostaglandins that cause the cramping. Lower prostaglandins mean lower pain occurrence.

Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers

You most likely already know you can take pain relievers to reduce period discomfort. However, not all pain relievers are created equally. Opt for those pain relievers providing a reduction in inflammation. These types of pain relievers are called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and commonly go by the name ibuprofen or naproxen. NSAID pain relievers lower the production of prostaglandins and decrease inflammation throughout your body. Make sure NSAIDs are okay for you to take, especially if you are on additional medication or are receiving treatment for another medical issue.

Supplements to Ease Period Pain

The Global Journal of Health Science reports that taking B1 or fish oil supplements (500mg) daily when experiencing painful cramping from a period can significantly reduce the pain. The study had participants take either the B1 or the fish oil (or both) when experiencing discomfort. Another group took placebos. The scientists concluded taking B1 or fish oil, or both together, had the same pain-reducing effect. Those taking the placebos experienced the same level of pain as before. The good news is B1 and fish oil tablets are inexpensive and easy to find.

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Another supplement receiving high praise for period relief is magnesium. Several studies show magnesium regulates nerve and muscles, as well as other vital bodily functions. The dietary dosage for women of childbearing age is 320mg daily, but if this dosage does not help, your doctor may prescribe a higher dosage.

Apply Heat to Your Abdominal Area

This is one of the most popular remedies for most women experiencing cramps is to apply heat. Several studies indicate that applying heat can be as effective for reducing pain as taking ibuprofen. The plus side is that using a heating pad will not upset your stomach over time like long-term NSAID usage can. In the study, women who use the heating pad only for pain relief experienced relief in about 90 minutes, whereas those taking the ibuprofen had to wait about three hours before feeling any relief.

If you do not have a heating pad, you can make one for yourself by taking an old athletic sock and filling two-thirds full with uncooked white rice (not instant). Place this in the microwave for approximately 1 minute. Be careful removing from the microwave, as it will be very warm. The advantage of the rice sock over the heating pad is that it molds to your body, allowing you to lie on your side if you need to, and it gradually cools down.

Exercise More to Relieve Cramping

When you experience painful cramping, the last thing you want to do is exercise. The good news is that if you increase your exercise at other times throughout the month, then the endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones released during exercise, offset the uterine contracting prostaglandins. Incidentally enough, it is no wonder prostaglandins cause your abdomen to ache. It is the same hormone given to pregnant women to induce labor.

Hormonal Birth Control for Pain Control

If hormones are causing pain, hormones may be able to stop the pain. At least that is the prevailing theory behind issuing birth control hormones for menstrual pain control. However, birth control can be administered in other forms aside from a pill. You could receive an injection, intra-uterine device (IUD) or a transdermal patch.

Birth control hormones may control the amount of flow each month as well as the pain associated with it. No one form works better than another as it is basically all the same type of hormone given. The hormone available in the birth control dosage thins the lining of the uterus so there is less inflammation, as well as slough. Additionally, it is thought to reduce the production of prostaglandins. Keep in mind that use of birth control can come with its own side effects that you may find uncomfortable.

What if nothing works to stop period pain?

If you continue to have painful cramping each month and no remedy offers relief, it is time to see a doctor. There are several conditions that can give rise to painful menstrual cramps. In these cases, medical intervention is required. In the past, women took drastic measures and had full hysterectomies to cure the symptoms. Now, physicians know this is unnecessary in most cases. Some common conditions contributing to painful cramps include:

  • Endometriosis: A condition where cells from the lining in the uterus are located in areas other than the uterus.
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: An infection and inflammation in a woman’s reproductive organs.
  • Uterine Fibroids: These are non-cancerous nodules that swell when estrogen levels increase.

Related Article: Preventive Health Care for Women

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