Chicago women’s health practice shares 10 ways to relieve menstrual cramps
Do you experience menstrual discomfort, especially before or during the first few days of your period? You certainly are not alone. About 80 percent of women suffer from symptoms of dysmenorrhea at some point between puberty and menopause. The condition can be debilitating and chronic. The compassionate professionals at Northwestern Women’s Health Associates S.C. in Chicago share these 10 ways to relieve menstrual cramps, to help you enjoy greater comfort every day of the month.
Tip number 1 – Understand what is causing your pain
The first step to finding relief from menstrual pain is to know what is going on inside your body. In younger women, this is usually “primary dysmenorrhea.” Cramping is caused by strong muscles of the uterus involuntarily contracting to slough off its lining. While this process is a necessary part of the reproductive cycle, it also (temporarily) decreases blood supply to the womb. The resulting discomfort can extend to muscles in the thighs or cause lower back pain. Other symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea sometimes accompany cramps.
Secondary dysmenorrhea usually begins in a woman’s mid-20s or later. Cramps may occur up to one to two weeks before the menses, as the menstrual flow becomes heavier and periods more prolonged. This type of cramping can make intimate relations painful. It may start right back up after giving birth to a child. Secondary dysmenorrhea can be worse as women enter their 30’s and 40’s.
Tip number 2 – Rule out medical problems
While it is not uncommon for young women to have occasional menstrual cramps, it is never wrong to talk with a gynecologist about symptoms – especially if they occur every month or are severe enough to disrupt normal activities.
Following the evaluation of your symptoms and a pelvic examination, the doctor may suggest further tests to be sure discomfort is not caused by another medical condition. Ultrasound gives the doctor a look at the cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterus. A CT or MRI scan provides a cross-sectional view of bones and other internal structures. Laparoscopy, a minimally invasive exploratory procedure, can identify adhesions, ectopic pregnancy, endometriosis, fibroids, or ovarian cysts.
This information helps the doctor design a treatment plan that gets you relief from symptoms and preserves your reproductive health.
Tip number 3 – Manage symptoms medically
In many cases, milder menstrual cramps can be treated with over the counter ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. This course of treatment is most effective when you begin taking the medication preemptively – the day before you expect your period to start – and continue it through the first few days of menstruation.
For some women, hormonal birth control significantly reduces the severity of menstrual cramps. If you are not actively trying to start a family, your gynecologist will talk with you about the best delivery mode for your lifestyle – a vaginal ring, IUD (intrauterine device),skin patch, injection, or pills.
If medical analysis described in tip number 2 shows the presence of fibroids or endometriosis, surgery could be indicated to correct the underlying problem causing your cramps. This can usually be accomplished with a minimally invasive procedure. As a last resort, hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) may be recommended.
Tips 4 through 10 – Practice self-care
Today, most women lead busy, challenging lives. Because menstrual cramps can be worsened by emotional stress, a little self-indulgence can go a long way toward finding relief:
- Take up yoga, meditation, or another relaxation technique.
- Schedule a massage the day before or the first day of your period.
- Try to get some exercise each day, including when you have cramps. (Sexual activity is a form of exercise, and it eases menstrual discomfort for some women.)
- Take a warm aromatherapy bath or apply a heating pad or heat patch to your lower abdomen when you have cramps.
- Consider acupressure or acupuncture from a reputable therapy center.
- Reduce alcohol consumption, chocolate, sugary foods, and salt. Smoking can also worsen period pain by inhibiting oxygen supply to the pelvic area.
- A natural supplement such as vitamin B6, vitamin E, evening primrose oil, or starflower oil can help to keep hormones balanced. However, please be sure to inform your gynecologist of any supplements you take.
Chicago women learn more than 10 ways to relieve menstrual cramps when they become patients of Northwestern Women’s Health Associates S.C. Call 312-440-9400 if you would like to become one of them.