Let’s Talk Menstrual Cramps
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.
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- J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2012 May;38(5):817-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0756.2011.01802.x. Epub 2012 Mar 22.