Menstruation is a natural part of a woman’s life, but painful menstrual cramps are a very annoying problem for many. While menstrual cramps are rarely a cause for concern, if severe they can disrupt regular activities.
Menstrual cramps are due to a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin that causes the uterine muscles to contract during menstruation.
Cramping can cause a dull or throbbing pain in the lower abdomen, and radiate pain to the lower back and thighs. Cramps generally subside after the first two to three days of the period. Some women feel cramps just before the onset of their cycle, too.
Some factors can increase the chances of suffering from menstrual cramps, such as reaching puberty at an early age, genetics, heavy bleeding during periods and unhealthy habits like smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, consuming excess alcohol and taking illegal drugs.
For some women, menstrual cramps may reduce or completely disappear after childbirth.
To ease the pain and discomfort, there are several over-the-counter medicines. However, some simple and natural home remedies can be equally effective and relieve symptoms faster, or even prevent cramps.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for menstrual cramps.
Applying heat on the lower abdomen is the easiest way to control menstrual cramps. Heat helps relax the contracting muscles in the uterus.
Ginger is a wonder herb that can effectively ease menstrual cramps. This herb plays a key role in lowering the levels of the pain-causing prostaglandins. It also helps fight fatigue associated with premenstrual syndrome and can make irregular periods regular.
Basil is another very effective herb for reducing menstrual pain and cramps. The caffeic acid present in basil has analgesic, or pain-killing properties.
Cinnamon has antispasmodic, anticlotting and anti-inflammatory properties that can relieve menstrual pain. Plus, cinnamon is an excellent source of dietary fiber, calcium, iron and manganese.
The antispasmodic, phytoestrogenic and anti-inflammatory properties of fennel can help relax the muscles in the uterus, which in turn relieves cramping and discomfort.
Another time-tested remedy for menstrual cramps is blackstrap molasses.
Being rich in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B6 and selenium, blackstrap molasses helps reduce blood clots and soothe the muscles of the uterine walls. This in turn lessens cramps during menstruation.
Chamomile tea has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties that help relax the uterus and ease the spasmodic contractions that cause pain during menstruation.
Parsley contains two compounds, apiol and myristicin, that are highly effective at stimulating the menstrual process and relieving cramps. Plus, it can help regulate irregular cycles.
Flaxseed is great for reducing the intensity of menstrual cramps. The essential fatty acids in flaxseed help stabilize the production of progesterone. Plus, flaxseed can improve uterine function and help treat fertility problems.
When suffering from menstrual cramps, consume one to two tablespoons of flaxseed daily. You can sprinkle ground flaxseed over a salad, cereal and yogurt or put it in a smoothie.
A potent anti-inflammatory agent, papaya is very helpful in treating menstrual cramps. Also, it has nutrients like carotene, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C that help soothe the uterine walls and ease muscle contractions.
Just before and during your period, include papaya in your diet to minimize or eliminate pain.
Along with these remedies, you can do yoga and cardiovascular exercises to help get rid of menstrual cramps. Also, do not forget to drink plenty of water. If you experience severe menstrual cramps on a regular basis, consult a doctor.
Answered by Dr. Shwetha Shrivatsa, MBBS (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)
Menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea is a common problem experienced by 50% to 90% of reproductive aged women worldwide. A severe form of cramps interferes with daily activities, often leading to absenteeism from school, work and other responsibilities. There are two types of menstrual cramps – primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea is the menstrual cramps that are not due to an underlying disease. These cramps usually begin a few days prior to periods and become worse during first few days of periods. A woman may experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue and even diarrhea with this type of cramps. Some studies have shown that women who have family members affected by primary dysmenorrhea are at increased risk of experiencing severe form of menstrual cramps themselves.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is the pain caused by an underlying disease in a woman’s reproductive organs. Most common conditions are fibroids, adenomyosis, endometriosis and infection (PID or Pelvic Inflammatory disease). This type of pain in usually not associated with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. A woman with any of these underlying conditions may experience pain in her pelvic area even when she is not on her periods. Physical activities including sex can worsen this type of pain.
Menstrual cramps are caused by a chemical called prostaglandin released from endometrium or lining of the uterus. The muscles in the uterus contract or tighten during periods. Prostaglandins can cause the muscle to contract strongly. If contractions are too strong, small blood vessels in these muscles can get clamped and blood supply can be cut-off for a brief period of time. This phenomenon of ischemia or lack of blood supply makes the menstrual cramps more painful.
Yes. NSAIDs or Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs are the mainstays of treatment for primary dysmenorrhea. NSAIDs reduce the amount of prostaglandins produced in the lining of the uterus and hence improve menstrual cramps.
Some examples of NSAIDs that are available over-the-counter are Ibuprofen and Naproxen. Other drugs that are effective but may need a prescription are Diclofenac, Mefenamic acid, Ketorolac and Celecoxib.
These medications should be taken with food and never on an empty stomach as they can cause nausea, diarrhea and even peptic ulcer with prolonged use.
Menstrual cramps that are not related to any underlying disease usually improve with age and after childbirth.
Having menstrual cramps suggests that a woman is ovulating during these cycles. However, having severe pain does not necessarily mean that she has increased fertility. If a woman is not planning to conceive, she should talk to her gynecologist about contraception. Birth control pills are commonly used to treat menstrual cramps in women who also need contraception.
If a woman is not able to conceive naturally, she should talk to her gynecologist even when she is experiencing menstrual cramps. Fertility or ability to conceive is dependent not only on ovulation but also on function of fallopian tubes, uterus and quality of semen.
Yes. The tightening of the uterine muscles causes shedding of the lining of the uterus. It is concerning if the bleeding lasts longer than five days or if flow becomes heavy (changes of pad every 1-2 hours).
Having heavy periods for a long time can cause anemia or low blood count. Anemia can cause low energy, tiredness, decreased concentration, irritability or even heart problems in severe cases. This condition requires prompt evaluation and treatment typically with iron supplements and iron rich diet.
Heavy periods can be usually treated with birth control pills, progesterone containing IUDs or endometrial ablation in women who have completed childbearing.
It is possible to have severe cramps when a woman is anemic as the blood has reduced capacity to carry oxygen to the uterus. It is important to get treatment for heavy periods in teenage years. If untreated, it will cause anemia and continue to worsen. In young girls, this can affect their performance in school and have impacts on self-image.
About Dr. Shwetha Shrivatsa, MBBS: Dr. Shrivatsa is a Board Certified OBGYN practicing in Philadelphia. She has been caring for women at Greater Philadelphia Health Action Inc. and has also been overseeing Women’s Health services as a Director. Her area of expertise includes treatment of Fibroid, Menstrual Irregularities and Pelvic pain with special interest in Minimally Invasive Surgery. She enjoys teaching medical students and resident physicians at Temple University Hospital as a Clinical Assistant Professor.
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