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Menstrual Cramps: Help For Painful Periods

Causes and Treatments for Menstrual Cramps

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Updated June 04, 2014

Girl with stomach cramps or pains
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If you are like most women, you have probably experienced menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) at one time or another. For some women, menstrual cramps are debilitating, while others experience only mild discomfort during their period.

Menstrual cramps may be primary or secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea occurs most often in young women who have just begun their menstrual cycles and often becomes less severe when a woman reaches her mid-twenties or after she has given birth . Secondary dysmenorrhea is diagnosed when menstrual cramps are caused by other conditions such as endometriosis, fibroid tumors, pelvic adhesions, and ovarian cysts or by the use of an interuterine device (IUD) for birth control.

Menstrual cramps are thought to be related to a hormone-like, naturally occurring substance called prostaglandin, which causes the uterus to contract. If a woman does not ovulate, it is unlikely that she will encounter cramps during her period. For this reason, physicians often prescribe oral contraceptives to ease painful periods. However, you should be aware that birth control pills cause abnormal bleeding in some women.

How Can You Beat Menstrual Cramps?

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, used around the clock as soon as you notice the first sign of your period can help to reduce the severity of cramps in many women by inhibiting the release of prostaglandins. Of course, be sure not to exceed the daily maximum as described on the medication's label. Acetaminophen(e.g.-Tylenol) will help the pain, but it does not have the effect on prostagladins.

Regular physical activity often reduces cramping in some women.

Natural progesterone may help reduce the symptoms that are causing menstrual cramps.

Supplementing your diet with zinc and calcium has been found to reduce cramps, bloating, and related PMS symptoms.

Herbal remedies, such as Viburnum prunifolium, Scutellaria spp. and Cimicifuga racemosa, have an antispasmodic effect that may reduce some menstrual cramps. Other useful herbs include cramp bark, squaw vine, unicorn root, bromelain, evening primrose oil, and blue cohosh.

Try taking a warm bath and using aromatherapy or a heating pad on your lower abdomen or back. If you don't have a heating pad, a heating pad substitute can be made at home.
How to Make a Heating Pad

Relaxing and letting those around you know that you are not feeling yourself will help by reducing the stress of your everyday life that may contribute to your menstrual cramps.

Source:

Dysmenorrhea. ACOG Education Pamphlet AP046. http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp046.cfm. Accessed 08/26/09.

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