Episode 3: October 7, 2010
by Sanaz Majd, MD
I see a lot of women in my office, and problems with periods is one of the most popular topics that my patients complain about. And today I want to talk about a problem with our periods that many women experience – period cramps.
Period cramps can be pretty nasty. It makes it difficult to get up in the mornings, to move, to eat, and to function at all. We may not feel pretty, and we may not feel like ourselves when we are doubling over in pain. It can be ugly. Most of us have experienced them to some extent, and we all know how it can affect our quality of life for those few days out of each month.
Well, you don’t have to live like that much longer! I’m going to talk about why it happens to some women and what you can do to help battle your period cramps and win.
Why Do Women Get Menstrual Cramps?
Dysmenorrhea, the fancy medical term for painful periods, is one of the most common period complaints that I hear from my patients during their child-bearing years. It is often passed down through the genes of your wonderful parents, and usually begins during the adolescent years.
Changes in your hormone levels release a chemical called prostaglandin that attacks the uterus like a grenade and causes it to contract. These contractions produce the characteristic cramping stomach pains during your menstrual cycles. This cramping begins with the onset of periods, or sometimes right before, and mercifully retreats within three days, thankfully.
How Can You Get Rid of Menstrual Cramps?
If you are one of the unlucky ones who gets cramps, here are some tips to ease the pain:
Heat: With your first line of defense, you can apply a heating pad to the cramping areas of your stomach. For some women, that is enough. For others, it may calm it down, but you may still need further treatment.
Vitamins: Taking 500 International Units (IU’s) of vitamin E daily, beginning two days before your period starts and continuing it through the first three days of bleeding may help. There are also some small studies that show vitamin B1, vitamin B6, and fish oil supplements may also help some people with their horrid period cramps. The evidence behind these methods is not the strongest, but it is certainly worth a try.
Exercise: Exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week, will also help decrease the pain with your periods. Just one more reason to hit the gym!
Anti-Inflammatory medications: A medicine that helps halt that nasty chemical called prostaglandin right in its tracks helps about eighty percent of people with painful periods. An example would be ibuprofen at a dose of 400mg to 600mg every six hours. You can start taking it right when your symptoms begin, and continue to take it for the next two or three days around the clock. Now, some people aren’t able to tolerate these medicines, so if you aren’t sure, you should ask your doctor if you can take them.
Oral hormonal contraceptives (The Pill): These hormones cause the lining of the uterus to thin out, and if this lining is thin when your period rolls around, there will be less shedding and therefore less uterine contractions. If your periods are painful enough, you can even take a special version of the pill that allows you have a period every three months, instead of monthly. Less periods while on the pill means less episodes of pain to endure. The only drawback of taking this pill continuously for three months at a time without having a period is that some people may experience unscheduled spotting in between their periods. But overall, not a bad deal if your periods are making you suffer.
The injection: The injectable contraception is given every three months at the doctor’s office. It’s a great option if you suffer from dysmenorrhea. Like the pill, it thins out the uterus lining, but does so even more so than the pill. Many women experience very little bleeding or none at all after six months of use. It may be useful to not have a period at all if your periods are painful enough.
The hormonal intrauterine device: There are two types of intrauterine devices (IUD’s) designed for contraception, one with a hormone and one without. The one containing the hormone lasts up to five years, and also works to thin out the uterine lining like other hormonal contraceptives. And like the injection, it thins out the uterus so much that many patients stop getting their periods after six months of use.
What to Do If Nothing Works?
If you have tried the above methods for at least three months, but your period cramps are not surrendering, you could be fighting a tad more complicated battle than you may think. There are several medical issues that can cause dysmenorrhea, including a disorder called endometriosis, where small areas within the pelvis grow cells of the uterus that bleed and contract. For instance, these cells can grow and irritate the tubes and the ovaries--locations that should not normally contain these uterine cells. Endometriosis is the culprit in about eighty percent of women who fail the above therapy for dysmenorrhea. So if none of the above methods of period pain control alleviate your cramps, it’s time to discuss this with your personal doctor.
Well you now have learned seven brave tips to help battle those pesky period cramps. Now you can fight on!
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.