Dec 28 2012

Menstrual Cramps

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Period cramps is one of the most common and painful signs that your period is about to start.

What You Need To Know

  • The uterus wall is a very strong muscle, capable of squeezing out a baby during child birth
  • Cramps are this muscle contracting to attempt to break loose and shed the blood rich uterus lining during menstruation
  • Diet and life style changes can help to control the cramps
  • Heat can bring topical relief from cramps. A hot bath, a hot water bottle or heat pads can be used on your stomach
  • NSAID pain killers can help. Special formulations for menstrual cramps are even better. Examples are Motrin and Midol.
  • Pain killers work best when started a day before the cramps start, and continued through the period
  • Sometimes whole pieces of the uterus lining is torn off and expelled whole. This is normally very painful, but harmless
  • Having an orgasm can help for cramps
  • Cramps can start or stop at any stage of the woman’s life
  • It is likely to change after stopping birth control pills, taking emergency contraceptives, or giving birth
  • Daily birth control pills will often make cramps more tolerable, or even make it disappear altogether
  • Some women cramp more when they use tampons
  • Sometimes cramps can happen at other times in the cycle
  • Continuously excessively painful cramps should be looked at by a doctor

Why does it happen?

Each cycle the lining of the uterus (endometrium) builds up in preparation for a possible pregnancy. If an egg is fertilized, the fertilized egg will float down the fallopian tube for a few days, and then attempt to burrow into this enriched uterus lining where it will be nourished and develop into a baby. If the egg is not fertilized, the lining is not needed. To prevent it from going bad, It breaks down and hormones called prostaglandins are released. These hormones will signal the muscles of the uterus to contract, tear off and dissolve the lining, and then squeeze the menstrual debris out the cervix into the vagina. The muscles are the same ones that push a baby out during childbirth, or gives you that wonderful contractions during orgasm. They are very strong. These contractions are what you are experiencing as menstrual cramps.

For extremely painful cramps, it is thought that some women have higher levels of prostaglandins and this is thought to be what causes the very painful muscle spasms. The other cause of very painful cramps are endometriosis or uterine fibroids.

Menstrual cramps that aren’t caused by some underlying condition will often lessen with age, and even disappear once a woman has given birth.

What does it feel like?

It can be felt as a dull throbbing or cramping feeling, a cramp-like spasm in the lower abdomen. It starts in the lower abdomen, and it can radiate up the spine and down the legs, or center in your lower back. For some women it is just a very dull reminder that their periods are on its way, no more than a passing discomfort. For other women this is a severe and debilitating feeling of excruciating pain that affects her ability to function for a few days. If you get it really badly, you may feel dizzy or nauseous, and get diarrhea or vomit. If it affects your life in this way, you should see your doctor. Most women find that the pain usually comes on a few hours before their periods start and begins to ease once the flow begins. For some women, the pain and discomfort continues into the second and even the third day of their period.

The cramps are often made worse by the other period signs and effects:

  • Headache
  • Lower back pain
  • Difficulty to sleep
  • Nausea
  • Sore breasts and nipples
  • Oily hair and skin
  • Pimples
  • Cravings and an increase in appetite
  • Emotional instability. irritability, anger
  • Bloating

In short, some women feel like they want to die, others have no signs and will be caught off guard by their periods. Painful cramps are normally worse in young women in their teens and twenties. As you mature, it will become less of an issue, and it often disappears after child birth.

How to deal with menstrual cramps

Not all things help every woman. In most cases, exercises, massage, a hot water bottle and pain killers will provide all the relief needed. If that is not the case, a good look at lifestyle and diet should be taken. After that, medical help should be sought.

Heat

Place a hot water bottle or heating pad on your abdomen. This helps to relax your muscles. A hot wash cloth or even just a warm blanket can also help. This can be just as effective as over-the-counter pain killers. Also try taking a hot bath of shower.

Birth Control Hormones

Birth control pills contain hormones which prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. Women on birth control pills will often have shorter and lighter bleeding with very little cramps. This is why your doctor may recommend birth control pills for menstrual cramps. The same effect can be expected from the patch, the shot, the implant or the ring.

Some pills will suppress ovulation and menstruation for longer periods of time than the usual 28 day cycle. Your doctor may prescribe these extended cycle pills, or even suggest that you to take only the active pills in your normal pill packs.

Pain Killers (Over the Counter)

There are two brands of pills especially formulated for menstrual discomfort:

  • Midol
  • Pamprin

These will also deal with other pre-menstrual symptoms like bloating and headaches.

Other general purpose pain killers can also help. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory (NSAIDs) pain killers thickens the blood and can reduce menstrual blood flow. They are also effective pain killers that will reduce menstrual pain:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin etc.)
  • Naproxen Sodium (Aleve)

Acetaminophen can help with pain, but it is not as effective as the NSAIDs. If you cannot tolerate ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, simple aspirin or acetaminophen can help a lot. The effectiveness of NSAIDs builds up over time, so if your cramps are so severe that the painkillers don’t do much, start taking it every six hours for a couple of days before you expect to get your period, and continue until your cramps stop. If over-the-counter NSAIDs do not help, your doctor may prescribe a prescription NSAIDs.

Try different types of pain killers to find the one that will help you. Different brands work better for different women.

Do not overdose on pain killers. These can be very destructive on your body. Always read the warning label and dosing instructions. If the pain killer does not help, it is often because you did not start to take it in time, not because you did not take enough.

And once again, start to take these medicines in time. The longer you wait, the worse it will perform. Be aware of your cycles and start a day or two before you expect it.

Lifestyle

Your lifestyle can play a significant role in your reproductive health. Engage in stress reduction activities such as yoga, massage and meditation, as they may ease the pain of menstrual cramps. Try to not think about things that may anger or upset you when you are on an emotional roller coaster before your period. Distract yourself with a hobby, or reading a book.

Diet

A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as plenty of water may help you. Attempt to keep track of how particular foods affect your period. Plenty of fiber is particularly useful in cleansing the body of excess estrogen (which can lead to heavier and more painful periods and cramps).

Vitamin E, thiamine and Omega-3 supplements may reduce menstrual cramps. Zinc and calcium have been found to reduce cramps, bloating and related PMS symptoms.

Calcium and magnesium reduce muscle soreness, but must be taken every day for a few months, before producing a noticeable effect.

Avoid xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens. If you have reduced your xenoestrogen and phytoestrogen load, then you may take topical Natural Progesterone. 30-40% of all women that do NOT reduce their xenoestrogen and phytoestrogen load temporarily experience worse symptoms when taking Natural Progesterone.

Women are sometimes advised to avoid caffeine: soda, pop, coffee and also foods high in sugar and sodium. On the other hand some women find coffee soothes the pain very effectively – this could be due to coffee decreasing excessive estrogen levels or relieving the bloating as it is a diuretic. It could also make your painkillers more efficient. While it is a common misconception that caffeine can increase blood flow, caffeine is actually a vaso-constrictor- it causes the walls of the veins to tighten so blood flows less freely. Notice many over the counter meds for cramps contain caffeine. It seems to have certain analgesic effects against neurological pain. Be careful though – lots of coffee can lead to magnesium deficiency which affects all sorts of processes in the body. (Sugar might be good for you too, this is very personal, you have to experiment. Eating simple carbs on your period can be good for an upset stomach.)

Eat calcium and magnesium rich foods/beverages. Take in a lot of those in milk, cheese, yogurt, and supplements too.

Take a chelated Magnesium (but not too much as to cause loose stools) and Vitamin B in the morning. Taking Vitamin B before sleep may cause vivid dreams.

Take calcium and magnesium supplements every day for 2-3 months. You should start noticing a significant reduction in pain and nausea after this time. Don’t stop taking the supplements once you feel better – you need a constant supply to feed your tired uterine muscles.

Exercise

Walk around the neighborhood, run on the treadmill, go ride your bike, or any other exercises you enjoy. This will increase blood flow which will help the cramps go away.

Get regular exercise. Exercise increases your overall serotonin levels. Serotonin is the body’s own painkiller, and also makes us feel happier.

Some women find that usual activity may also help relieve pain.

Sleeping

Laying on your side with your knees tucked into your chest can temporarily reduce the pain. Some people say to lay face down on the bed, with your face in a pillow. Stick your butt up in the air. This will relieve gas and help you feel better. Also try lying on your back, keeping your feet elevated by pillows.

Pain Management

Use other mechanisms to deal with pain when you do not have pain medicines available.

Distract yourself from the pain. Distraction is one of the most powerful and readily available painkillers. So if you have intense cramps, do something that normally totally absorbs you, such as socialize with good friends, read a book, play a computer game, watch TV or spend time on Twitter or FaceBook.

Acupuncture has been used as a pain relief method for over 2,000 years. Hair-thin needles are placed into the skin on specific locations on your body. The needles do not cause pain for most people.

Rub your fingers on your stomach gently. Lightly massage your abdomen, or get someone else to do it for you. This promotes blood flow to the tired muscles, which brings more oxygen and nutrients, and takes away the acidic byproducts produced by tired muscles.

Consider the aromatherapy to help you relax, something such as lavender essential oil in your bath, in an oil burner or just sniffing from the bottle.

Sex

An orgasm releases oxytocin, which causes uterine contractions. These contractions are the same sort of contractions as menstrual cramps. It can speed up the sloughing off of the uterus lining and it can ease the pain. Orgasms also flood your body with good feelings that overshadow the bad ones. it will relax you and make it easier to fall asleep. If you can work up to it, this is one of the best ways to reverse the pain. If you are one of the women that are sexually more aroused during menstruation, this is an excellent way to deal with both issues at once.

Counter to what you would think, an orgasm during menstruation will also lower your risk of endometriosis,

Clothing

Try to wear clothing that doesn’t pressure your abdomen, such as all-in-ones. They are comfortable, warm and help reduce period cramps caused by tight clothing. Dance Direct sell some good-quality ones. Wear comfortable cotton panties. Cotton is absorbent and airy.

Menstrual Products

Tampons are made from bleached cotton. Although it is better than tampons from a few years ago, it is still not the healthiest thing to keep in your vagina for a long time. Do not have one in for longer then 8 hours. Leaving a tampon in longer may result in Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). A different option may be menstrual cups. Rather than absorb your flow, it traps it. It can handle very heavy flow over a long period of time (12 hours), so it may give you the opportunity to sleep in a bit without worrying about TSS and leaks.

If you wear pads, change it every two hours or so.

General

Sit up as straight as possible in a chair. Don’t slump forward, or tilt back.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed. It happens to every girl/woman.

Visit your local library for books on menstrual problems and menstrual cramps, these can be very helpful.

 

When to seek medical help

Mention to doctors any menstrual problems you feel you might be having, and take into consideration how conditions such as IBS or anemia may make you feel during menstruation. In addition, menstrual cramps can be caused by an underlying disorder such as endometriosis or fibroids, in which case the surgical removal of tissue may be required to help alleviate your symptoms.

If you think the problem could be serious, have persistent cramping or extremely heavy bleeding, consult a medical professional. Endomorphisms, ovarian cysts and/or adenomyosis needs to be ruled out by a professional health care provider.

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