Menstrual cramping is also known as period pain or dysmenorrhea. If you suffer from painful menstrual cramps during your monthly cycle, you are not alone. Lower abdomen cramping is one of the most common period symptoms women experience. However, knowing how common period cramping is offers little consolation when you are unable to perform daily tasks because of the pain.
During menstruation, the lining of your uterus sheds. Your body’s efforts to flush out the shed lining is what causes menstruation. To accomplish this goal, your uterine muscles must push the blood and tissue out. The cycle of your uterine muscles contracting and relaxing can cause a painful cramping sensation. The reason you may have menstrual cramping and another menstruating woman may not is because certain hormones cause those muscle contractions. Additionally, some lifestyle differences, like diet and exercise, can play a role in how painful your period is. Eliminating the cramps entirely can be difficult because muscle contractions are a required step in completing your monthly cycle. However, the sections below go over simple steps you can take to alleviate the pain of menstrual cramping.
Over-The-Counter Medication to Alleviate Pain From Menstrual Cramping
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain from menstrual cramps. You can purchase NSAIDs without a prescription at any local drugstore. Take them as directed for as long as your pain lasts. Several over-the-counter medications are branded and packaged as menstrual treatments. However, you can use standard pain relief medications to treat period cramps, such as:
- Naproxen sodium.
Certain over-the-counter medications can provide additional period relief beyond decreasing the pain of cramps. If you suffer from heavy flow during menstruation, taking naproxen sodium or ibuprofen is a good idea. Both are known to reduce the amount of blood lost during menstruation. However, the reduction may be slight. See your doctor if your bleeding is severe.
Some over-the-counter medications capable of relieving your menstrual cramp pain may cause other unwanted side effects. For example, certain medications can cause unpleasant symptoms like nausea, bloating or dizziness. Allergies are also possible. Therefore, you may need to try a few pain relievers before finding the one that works best for you.
Taking Birth Control Medications to Reduce Menstrual Cramping
If you do not want to have a child in the near future, consider birth control as a means of preventing menstrual cramping. When you use hormonal contraception properly, the hormones introduced to your body stop you from ovulating.
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Simultaneously, production of a chemical called prostaglandin slows down. When you have less prostaglandin in your body, you experience fewer menstrual cramps. Common types of hormonal birth controls available include:
- Birth control pills, also known as oral contraceptives.
- Contraceptive rings.
- Contraceptive patches.
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs), which are inserted in your uterus.
- Contraceptive implants, which are inserted in your arm.
Taking oral contraceptives can also reduce your menstrual cramping in other ways. For example, birth control may help you regulate related symptoms like bloating and heavy blood flow. By doing so, your cramps may decrease in severity and frequency. Taking oral contraceptives may also make your menstrual cycle more predictable, if you have irregular menstrual periods. When your periods are predictable, you can take more preemptive measures to prevent pain from cramping, rather than treating it when it begins.
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In some cases, contraception can help you get rid of menstrual cramps entirely. Many methods of contraception can stop your period, depending on how you schedule the doses. When you do not menstruate, there are no menstrual cramps to treat. Using contraceptives to halt your period is safe and can generally be done indefinitely. Additionally, you can return to a normal menstrual cycle by halting the use of hormonal contraception or changing your pattern for taking it.
Home Remedies for Menstrual Cramping
There are many home remedies for menstrual cramping you can try. The effectiveness of those remedies varies, and scientific research about some of them is lacking. However, most of them cannot harm you, so they are worth trying.
One home remedy that is known to be effective is the application of heat. A study conducted in 2001 by an instructor at the University of Cincinnati found the application of heating pads reduced menstrual pain in test subjects. Multiple studies have also been conducted on the general ability of heat to relieve pain. The results of those studies support the conclusion that heat application can decrease your menstrual cramp symptoms. One such study, conducted in 2014, concluded heat therapy is much more effective for pain relief than applying ice or cold as a pain treatment.
When attempting to relieve your menstrual cramps with heat, you can take hot showers or a bath. Applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to your abdomen may also help. Additional home remedies experts recommend include:
- Staying hydrated.
- Getting regular exercise.
- Laying in different positions to relieve abdominal pressure.
- Taking vitamin supplements, including B6.
- Massaging your abdomen with your fingertips.
- Avoiding consumption of fatty foods, caffeine and alcohol while menstruating.
- Eating smaller meals to limit bloating that can increase cramping.
Using Alternative Medicine to Treat Menstrual Cramping
There are numerous alternative medicines that may help you reduce pain from menstrual cramping. For example, studies support the use of certain herbs for cramp relief. Most of the recommended herbs have antispasmodic or anti-inflammatory properties. For example, chamomile tea raises glycine levels in your body. Glycine relaxes your nerves and reduces muscle spasms. Other herbs that allegedly reduce menstrual cramping or the pain associated with it include:
- Fennel seeds.
According to Mayo Clinic experts, studies have found acupuncture may also relieve your menstrual cramps. Acupuncture is a needle-based treatment that hails from China. A trained acupuncture therapist must insert the small needles into your skin at strategic points. The technique stimulates nerves and relieves many types of pain.
Acupressure is another form of ancient Chinese alternative medicine that may relieve your menstrual cramp pain. Less scientific data exists on the effects of acupressure on menstrual cramp pain, but it is a harmless technique worth trying, according to experts. It is like acupuncture, but it does not involve needle use. You can easily perform it on yourself at home. To do so, apply light pressure to strategic parts of your body using your fingertips. Online guides are available describing the right acupressure points to stimulate. If you prefer, you can make appointments for treatment by an acupressure specialist.
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