The superwoman who balances her career and family is reduced to a mass of writhing pain. The talented and academically brilliant teenager misses school. At a popular tennis academy, the most promising player suddenly decides to drop out. It’s not a one-off or a random incident affecting a few. Painful periods are amongst the most common gynecological problems affecting women across the globe.
The severe and frequent cramps during menses are known as dysmenorrhea. This pain usually occurs in the lower abdomen. For some, there is pain in the lower back and thighs, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, or even dizzy spells. Some women report severe pain accompanied by heavy bleeding. Menstrual pain is often caused by prostaglandins – lipid compounds associated with pain and inflammation released by some cells shed during the period – that trigger uterine contractions and contribute to heavy bleeding. Dysmenorrhea is also caused by other medical conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cysts, etc.
According to a 2016 study of 1000 healthy females from India in the age group 11-28 years, 70.2% of the respondents suffer from painful periods . A 2012 study of 408 women reported that 84.1% of the women suffered from menstrual pain and for 43.1% of them, the pain occurred during every period . Thanks to the taboo associated with “period talk”, and the assumption that women have to grin and put up with it, the prevalence ranges cannot be accurately estimated. It is generally accepted that 3 in 4 women suffer from this pain at some point in their lives.
Beat the Pain
While some people opt for medication, some use alternative methods to find relief.
Curling up with a heating pad is helpful. Heat relaxes the uterine muscles, slowing down the contractions that cause pain.
Physical activity may be the last thing you want to do during period cramps, but it actually helps. Physical activity leads to the release of endorphins that relieve pain and enhance the mood. Low-intensity workouts and stretches have a beneficial effect. Studies also reported that a regular exercise routine helps in reducing the levels of prostaglandins in the system.
Aromatic oil massage
Some essential oils and their carrier oils have analgesic properties. Massage with such oils can provide relief. A study found that a blend of lavender, clary sage, and marjoram in ratio 2:1:1 diluted in unscented cream has constituents such as β-caryophyllene, eucalyptol, linalyl acetate, and linalool, which are analgesics .
Some fragrant infusions such as chamomile and peppermint can help. Such teas release chemicals that relax uterine muscles. Some teas are rich sources of anti-inflammatory compounds that help in reducing prostaglandin production.
This traditional medicine is often recommended for menstrual pain relief because of its anti-inflammatory effect.
Yoga and meditation
These techniques relieve stress, promote muscle relaxation, and enhance the mood.
Nutritionists recommend a low-fat diet from Day 14 of the menstrual cycle to reduce the production of inflammatory mediators. Improved intake of magnesium, Vitamin B1, and Vitamin D is also believed to help. It is advised to consult a nutritionist for the best diet plan.
Many safe OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen are available for immediate relief. Ibuprofen belongs to a class of drugs called Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that block the production of inflammatory chemicals.
Our Team Members Talk
In the early years, soon after menarche, the pain was terrible. After consulting with a gynecologist, I was prescribed medication. After marriage and pregnancy, things were much improved. After moving to a healthy lifestyle, it has become easier. This is a blessing, considering my travel schedule. Occasionally, there are some symptoms such as back pain, but light physical activity helps.
Menstrual cramps can exist on a spectrum…. Some women don’t experience menstrual cramps at all, others experience pain that renders them non-functional, and then there’s everything in between that range. As someone with a history of adenomyosis, I experienced significant dysmenorrhea in the past, and am thankful for having had the option of undergoing laparoscopic surgery. Currently, a combination of medical management (with hormone-based treatment as well as NSAIDs) and mindfulness-based techniques for relaxation is helpful during those rare months when the pain starts to affect quality of life. I believe, as women, we are well tuned to our own bodies. And, if you are concerned about menstrual cramps, give in to your intuition and consult your gynecologist.
Dealing with menstrual cramps and all the “perks” that come with it has been a chore since I was 12. Fortunately for me, cramps and pain aren’t the biggest issue I have to face every month. It’s more so the water retention and bloating that plagues me. Having to deal with a swollen face, sluggishness, and basically ‘feeling fat’ is the bigger problem, bringing my morale down. But hey! There’s always the next week to bounce back from that
Once in a while, there would be that bad period with cramps. A heating pad helped – my mother was against using medication at that time. Childbirth set the system right. Last year, however, things became weird with non-stop bleeding for 20 days and severe pain. There were days when I couldn’t get up from the bed. A battery of tests and a D&C revealed other complications that called for a hysterectomy.
The pain is terrible. For me, it is because of PCOD. I do things slow on those days, sleeping more. I believe that women should be treated right and not like pariahs at such times. In many homes, women are treated badly at such times. I was fortunate to be brought up in a broad minded family. Ill-treating a woman adds to her stress levels, which she doesn’t need when she’s in pain.
The annoying part is that period-associated discomfort is spread over a considerable duration of time. From the dreaded yet familiar signal in my abdomen for the start of the period, across those hours wherein I sit and try to work (and by that I mean sit, stand, walk or just deal) through the cramps and….that frustration when all is over and I am relieved and energized, I feel like I lose a big chunk of my day! Thankfully, I do not have trouble every month – the pain presents itself on Day 1 of every other period. Personally, I find that regular exercise, fluids and certain foods during the weeks before the period have helped me reduce (or keep away completely) menstrual cramps.
Our Product Manager Shares His Views
Never experienced menstrual cramps myself seeing as I possess the much-sought-after-in-India Y chromosome, but I do have strong feelings about how society, politics and global administrative agencies view menstrual health as a whole. Also, since I gained access to this blog before it got published, I have hijacked this space to go on a rant. Women go through a hell lot of pain and discomfort every single month – not just physical, but emotional too (don’t believe me men? Try taking some hormone shots and see what happens!). As men, we don’t really understand or even begin to appreciate the “joy-ride” women go through every month, and in our ignorance we still condemn them to isolation, a sense of impurity, and financial discomfort (seriously man? 12% GST on pads? They’re NOT luxury items!) when they are already “down and out” (sic). We need a major major revolution in our approach, our psyche, and our approach towards tackling the issue of menstruation and all things that come with that. And yes, we men also have a major part to play. After all, we do make up over 50% of the society. Just some food for thought.
–Udbhav Relan (XY)
- Glob J Health Sci. 2016 Aug; 8(8): 135–144. Published online 2015 Dec 17. doi: 10.5539/gjhs.v8n8p135. Accessed online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5016343/
- J Pain Res. 2012; 5: 169–174. Published online 2012 Jun 20. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S30602. Accessed online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392715/
- J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2012 May;38(5):817-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0756.2011.01802.x. Epub 2012 Mar 22.