The medical term for those painful cramps that occur either right before or even during your menstrual period is referred to as dysmenorrhea. There are two variations of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea is the term that refers to the common menstrual cramps. These typically begin 1-2 years after a woman begins getting her period. Typically, the pain of these cramps is felt in the lower back or lower abdomen.
Primary dysmenorrhea can be very mild or can be very severe. Usually, these cramps will start right before or right at the very beginning of her period and will last 1-3 days. As a woman gets older, these typically become less painful and after having her first baby, they may go away all together.
The cramping that begins much earlier in a woman’s cycle and lasts a bit longer than primary dysmenorrhea is referred to as secondary dysmenorrhea. This condition is the result of issues with a woman’s reproductive system.
Common Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps
Some of the common menstrual cramp symptoms include the following:
- Pain in the lower abdomen- severe at times
- Pressure in the abdomen
- Pain in the lower back, inner thighs, and hips
Severe cramps may be accompanied by:
- Upset stomach, occasionally including vomiting
- Loose bowel movements
Treating Menstrual Cramps
Many women deal with these painful cramps month after month. In fact, one study showed that somewhere between 40-90 percent of women struggle with the debilitating effects of menstrual cramps every month. Though some of the most common treatments include ibuprofen or even medications specially formulated to treat symptoms of PMS, there are better ways.
Many women are now seeking more natural ways to treat their menstrual cramps. Some of the natural remedies include: herbal preparations, tradition Chinese Medicine, dietary supplements, and even a combination of exercise and heat therapy.
Naturally Treating Menstrual Cramps
Herbal Preparations to Treat Menstrual Cramps
One natural alternative to alleviate menstrual cramps can be found in plants/herbal preparations that have anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Some of the most common herbs used for treating menstrual cramps include: raspberry leaf, black cohosh, cramp bark, chaste berry, and angelica.
Typically, you can find herbal supplements in capsule form or herbal tinctures at most health food stores or the specialty aisles at most grocery stores. The top choice among professionals is cramp bark. This plant contains a compound called valerianic acid, which is a relaxant that is specific to a woman’s reproductive system.
As with most herbal treatments, there have been no clinical trials conducted on cramp bark, but there are no known side effects or interactions with other medications. However, you should know that cramp bark is a diuretic, so you will go to the restroom more often.
You should talk with your physician before trying an herbal preparation to be sure that there are no side effects or interactions with other medications you’re taking.
Traditional Chinese Medicine to Treat Menstrual Cramps
This particular treatment includes Chinese herbs and acupuncture and has a very long history in offering methods for addressing the pain of menstruation. Advocates of this type of therapy claim that it works by unblocking the “Qi,” or the vital energy, along the energy channels of the body. It is quite possible that acupuncture is useful for treating menstrual cramps.
However, research is very limited. There have been some small studies, in which women with menstrual cramps received acupuncture treatments on a regular basis, and noted a bit of improvement in their symptoms. The improvements lasted for at least six months, and women were able to reduce their use of pain medications.
Additionally, there have been a few studies on Chinese herbs for treating the pain of menstruation, which have shown some very promising results and have revealed no adverse events. However, more studies are necessary. You will need to meet with a qualified, licensed acupuncturist or a qualified Chinese herbalist in order to create a customized treatment that targets your specific symptoms.
Dietary Supplements for Treating Menstrual Cramps
One very large randomized, controlled study revealed that taking 100 milligrams of Vitamin B1 every day is an effective treatment for menstrual cramps. Additionally, when used throughout menstruation, magnesium is very effective at treating cramping.
Finally, another study showed that Vitamin E was just as effective as ibuprofen for relieving menstrual cramps. Other dietary supplements that are used for naturally treating menstrual cramps are: omega-3, Vitamin B12. However, you should use caution when getting omega-3 from fish oil, and make sure that you get a mercury-free brand.
Also, if you’re taking blood thinners or daily aspirin, you should check with your doctor before taking fish oil, due to the risk of interactions between those medications and fish oil.
Heat and Exercise for Treating Menstrual Cramps
Of course, one of the best and most effective treatments for cramping during menstruation can be found without ever leaving home- heat therapy. One study showed that using a heating pad on a low setting, a heating pack, or a hot water bottle was more effective when used in conjunction with pain medication, instead of using the pain medication by itself.
Also, even though you probably don’t feel like it, you should know that exercise is also effective for keeping the cramps associated with menstruation from coming on. Though there have not been many studies on this, one very small study showed that exercise really did decrease menstrual cramps and these benefits lasted for three cycles. Another small study showed that yoga worked to reduce the duration and the severity of cramps.
If you have symptoms that extend outside of menstruation, you should talk about it with your physician. There may be an underlying medical condition causing this. It is vital that you seek medical treatment for severe symptoms that are not relieved by these or other remedies- especially if they are keeping you from participating in your normal daily activities. Make sure that you inform your physician about all of the types of treatment you’re using- even the “natural” ones.