PMS, PMDD, bloating, fatigue, breast tenderness, swelling, and headache are all symptoms associated with a woman’s monthly menstrual period. Arguably the worst and most debilitating symptom is cramping. Menstrual cramps can cause women to miss days of school or work depending on their severity. With a healthy non-pregnant woman having a period every 28 days or so and therefore approximately 13 periods a year, menstrual cramps can have an adverse effect on the quality of her social and professional life.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps?
Every month the inner lining of the uterus prepares for pregnancy and every month there is no fertilized egg this lining dies and sheds. When the old lining starts to break down a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin is released causing the muscles of the uterus to contract cutting off blood supply and oxygen to the endometrial tissue. After the tissue dies, the contractions help to push it out of the body. Higher levels of leukotrienes, which cause inflammation, have also been detected in women during this time and can contribute to menstrual cramping as well.
Medicines that Help Relieve Menstrual Cramps
Over the counter drugs like aspirin or any products containing acetaminophen (Tylenol, Midol, Pamprin) are effective for milder cramps. There are also nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, that contain ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox), or ketoprofen (Actron, Orudis KT) that help to lower the production of prostaglandin and therefore provide some relief.
A prescription NSAID is mefenamic acid which is found in the drug Ponstel.
Oral contraceptives are also known to help when used over time.
Other Ways to Help Alleviate Menstrual Pain
- A warm bath can help to relax the body. Stress and tension can make menstrual pain worse.
- Lying down in the fetal position
- Heating pad on the abdomen or back
- Low impact exercise like walking or swimming
What Can Worsen Menstrual Cramps?
Caffeine, dairy products, salt, and sugar can increase the possibility and severity of cramps. According to HealthMed.com, the Chinese also believe that cold foods add to menstrual pain.
What Works Best?
There are several options when it comes to relieving menstrual cramps. Every woman’s body is different and the cause of one woman’s cramps may not be exactly the same as another’s. Many women go thru a trial and error period of testing out different remedies in order to figure out what works best for them.