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BellaOnline's Gynecology Editor

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Menstrual Cramps - Surviving the Inevitable

Guest Author - Linda Reid

So, youíve seen your doctor and itís been verified that the pain you are experiencing during your period is a normal part of your cycle and not a symptom of an underlying disorder. Thatís wonderful. Isnít it? The fact is, if your cramps are making you miserable and interfering with your daily life, itís probably small comfort to learn that itís ďjust your periodĒ.

There are a number of factors that may pre-determine the intensity of your pain. The following risk factors have been linked to more severe episodes of dysmenorrhea:

1. Beginning menstruation at an early age;
2. Long menstrual periods;
3. Having a heavy menstrual flow (menorrhagia);
4. Smoking;
5. Family history of severe dysmenorrhea.

Science has yet to settle on the cause of menstrual cramps but the most popular conjecture is that compounds, called prostaglandins, that occur naturally as a result of the breaking down of the lining of the uterus, cause the uterus to contract, expelling the debris that comes out during your period. Prostaglandins are used to soften the cervix and induce contractions in pregnant women, so itís a theory that makes sense.

Common pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen have been found to be most effective in relieving menstrual cramps as they inhibit the production of prostaglandins. Studies have shown that starting the medication a couple of days before the onset of your period and taking them on a schedule, rather than on an as-needed basis, is more helpful in reducing the severity of the pain. Everybody is different, so sometimes trial and error may be the only way to find out which medication works best for you. As with all medications, there can be side-effects and you may have other health issues that preclude you taking them. Discuss this with your health-care provider or your pharmacist and always follow the directions when taking any medication.

In some cases, dysmenorrhea is so extreme that over-the-counter medications are not strong enough to control the pain. Your doctor may then decide a prescription pain medication is necessary. Low dose birth-control pills may also be prescribed and are very effective in most cases. Even if you have had your tubes tied or are not sexually active, the birth-control pill is a remedy to consider. There are also patches, IUDís and other methods of introducing hormones into the body that will relieve severe menstrual cramps.

Homeopathy has been around for a couple of hundred years and this branch of alternative medicine offers a wide selection of remedies for menstrual problems based on your particular set of symptoms. Homeopathy has not been scientifically proven to be effective and is considered controversial. However, there are many supporters of homeopathy who will swear it works for them. If you know for sure that your cramps are primary dysmenorrhea and not caused by a secondary disorder, you might want to explore the possible solutions offered by this discipline, to relieve your discomfort.

Naturopathic medicine also offers solutions to menstrual cramps through, as the name implies, natural means. This includes diet modification, the use of herbal and nutritional supplements and exercise such as yoga, stretching and walking. When considering this form of alternative medicine, it is wise to seek the advice of a naturopathic physician.

Acupressure is comparable to acupuncture but uses the fingers, instead of needles, to press key areas on the body that will stimulate a natural healing process. Pressing these trigger points releases muscle tension, promotes circulation and energizes the bodyís life force. It can be done anytime to relieve discomfort. A number of websites and books offer information on how to find and stimulate these trigger points.

Traditional methods of coping with menstrual cramps include applying heat to the abdomen using a heating pad or hot-water bottle, walking, and taking a warm bath. Chamomile, ginger, and raspberry leaf teas are reported to soothe the pain. There is anecdotal evidence that lying on your back with your hips propped in the air and pumping your legs in a bicycle motion, temporarily relieves cramps. Many women report that their pain eases when they are curled up on their side in a fetal position.

Do you smoke? Do you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages? Are you inactive? Are you overweight? Would you say your alcohol consumption probably exceeds an acceptable standard? Are you stressed? Is your diet heavy in sugars and fats? All of these things have been found to aggravate dysmenorrhea. A healthy lifestyle is advantageous on so many levels and it is within your control to make those beneficial changes that will not only relieve your menstrual cramps, but contribute positively to your overall well-being.

Dysmenorrhea should ease with age. Most women report little or no discomfort with their period by the time they have reached the age of 30. If you are over 25 years of age and are just beginning to have pain with your period, or the pain you usually experience has intensified, see your health-care provider as there may be an underlying condition developing.
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Content copyright © 2013 by Linda Reid. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Linda Reid. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dr. Denise Howard for details.

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