Most women will experience menstrual cramps at some point in their life. Menstrual cramps normally appears a year or two after a girl starts her first period, and often, the cramps improve with age. The pain usually starts with the beginning of bleeding and lasts for a few days.
What causes menstrual cramps and pain?
Menstrual cramping is the physical sensation you get as the muscles of the uterus contracts to expel the unused inner lining. The uterus is made completely of muscle with the exception of the innermost lining called the endometrium. With each menstrual cycle, the inner lining of the uterus prepares for an embryo to implant by growing a layer of tissue, rich with blood vessels and nutrients. When the body realizes that it is not pregnant, a shift in hormone occurs that triggers the beginning of the period and the release of chemicals called prostaglandins, which causes the muscle of the uterus to contract and push out the unused blood. The higher the levels of prostaglandins, the stronger the contractions of the uterine muscle, and the more severe the pain.
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For many women, the pain resolves after taking ibuprofen, but for others, the pain can be unbearable, affecting their quality of life. However, there are multiple treatment options available to provide relief.
How to get rid of menstrual cramps
One of the ways to treat cramps is to stop the productions of prostaglandins. This can be achieved using the NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory). NSAID includes common over the counter medications like naproxen and ibuprofen. If you start taking the NSAIDs 1-2 days before the start of cramping they work even better. NSAIDs are not recommended for people with stomach ulcers. Consult your doctor before using them.
Heat is also effective for reducing menstrual pain and cramps. While you can’t always walk around with a heating pad, there are newer topical stickers that contain chemical heating elements that are an excellent choice for menstrual pain.
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) is a device you wear over an area of pain that kindles your nerves with electricity in an attempt to confuse the pain fibers. It has been shown in clinical trials to reduce menstrual pain with the least side effects. TENS units can be purchased without a prescription. However, you should check with your doctor before buying or taking one.
Oral contraceptives, commonly called the birth control pill or the pill, can reduce menstrual pain and cramping by up to 90%. The pill keeps your hormones at a steady state. So, the prostaglandin production doesn’t get triggered, since less tissue is grown in the uterine lining and with no shift in hormone. Depo-Provera (the birth control shot) also works in a similar manner to ease cramping.
Massage and exercise
Lower back massage and aerobic exercise have both been shown to reduce cramping and pain associated with your menstrual period.
When to see a doctor
You should see a doctor if:
- The sudden start of menstrual cramping is later in life (above age 20)
- Pain that returns after being gone for several years
- Pain at times of the month other than your period
- Menstrual cramping not relieved by NSAIDs
- Pain with intercourse
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