Some women experience periods that are so painful they cause nausea and vomiting. This condition, known as dysmenorrhea, is usually not related to an underlying health or gynecological disorder. Experts believe that painful menstruation is caused when the hormone prostaglandin which causes the uterus to contract to shed its old lining-is present in very high levels in the body. An excess of this hormone can cause strong, painful contractions within the uterus. Severe menstrual pain can also be caused by endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
Adolescents and young adults-particularly those who have not had a child-are at the highest risk of developing dysmenorrhea. The condition usually disappears when the woman reaches her mid-twenties or gives birth to a child.
Signs and Symptoms
- Intense pain or cramps in the lower abdomen during menstruation (the pain may extend to the hips, lower back, and thighs)
- Nausea and vomiting during menstruation
Conventional Medical Treatment
If you are experiencing painful menstruation, visit your gynecologist. The visit includes an informational interview, during which the physician may ask questions about your diet, lifestyle, and sexual history as well as the history of your menstrual pain. A full physical and pelvic examination also may be necessary.
Fortunately, there are effective drug treatments or dysmenorrhea. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, mefenamic acid, and naproxen. These relax the uterine muscle, greatly lessening the painful contractions. Oral birth control pills can also make periods less painful.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
Eat a diet plentiful in whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and seeds and nuts. Avoid dairy products, saturated fats, salt, sugars, and caffeine. Supplement with the following daily dosages:
- vitamin B complex(should include 50 mg each of vitamin B3 and vitamin B6)
- vitamin C (1000 mg)
- calcium (500 mg, citrate form)
- magnesium (500 mg, glycinate form)
- potassium (99 mg)
- zinc (30 mg)
- essential fatty acids (as directed on label)
To lessen cramping and discomfort, try massaging your abdomen with an antispasmodic essential oil. Combine 5 drops (total) of the essential oils of marjoram, Roman chamomile, clary sage, or jasmine with 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Apply to your abdomen and massage gently in a circular pattern.
According to Ayurveda, painful menstruation can be classified as vata, pitta, and kapha, according to your symptoms. Ayurvedic practitioners may advise taking a mixture of aloe vera (look for a non-laxative type) and black pepper until the symptoms subside. They also may suggest a guggulu herbal compound, such as triphala guggulu, which is available in tablet form.
Ayurvedic products are available at many health food stores and Indian pharmacies.
Painful cramping associated with menstruation can be relieved with applications of dry heat and specific chiropractic adjustment (SCA). The chiropractor may utilize soft tissue massage to the paraspinal lumbar muscles (along the spine) to facilitate relaxation of skeletal and visceral (internal) muscles. The practitioner works to adjust the lumbar and sacral vertebral segments to induce proper nerve flow and relax these muscles.
A number of herbal teas can tame cramping uterine muscles and soothe discomfort. Experiment to see which of the following works best for you.
The most effective of the teas is made from cramp bark. Simmer 2 teaspoons in 1 cup water for 15 minutes. Drink 3 times a day while needed. Other teas worth trying include feverfew, skull cap, black cohosh, and valerian. Consult a medical herbalist for directions.
Herbal products are available in health food stores and in some pharmacies and supermarkets. Follow package for specific directions.
Your homeopathic practitioner might advise one of the following treatments for painful menstruation, depending on your symptoms:
- Colocynthis-if the pain eases when you lie down, draw up your legs, or put pressure firmly on your abdomen.
- Chamomilla-if you feel irritable and have intense, labor-like pains.
- Belladonna-if the onset is sudden and you have throbbing pains which are worse on the
right side; you feel a sensation similar to bearing down.
- Magnesia phosphorica-if the pain eases when you draw up your knees and place a hot water bottle on your abdomen.
- Place a hot pack over the abdomen for 5 to 30 minutes to relax the muscles, diminish cramping, and lessen discomfort. For relief from cramps, apply cold compresses to the belly. Here are some additional useful remedies:
- Drink 2 glasses of cold water on arising to help flush area
- Sit in a cool shallow bath with feet in a hot bath
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture – Menstrual pain may be greatly relieved by acupuncture. Typically, the points targeted include Conception Vessel and Spleen, and uterine and ovarian-related auricular points. Abdominal cramps or bloating may be relieved by targeting Stomach 30, Spleen, and Liver. Other points may be included, as symptoms warrant. A hot water bottle (not a heating pad) also can be very helpful.
Acupressure can be very effective in lessening menstrual pain. Acupressure points that may be targeted include: Conception Vessel, Spleen, Liver, Large Intestine, Stomach, and Bladder.
The practitioner often may recommend that the patient receive treatment the week before the onset of menstruation to help prevent dysmenorrhea from recurring.
Chinese Herbal Therapy – Chinese combination medicines are often used to combat dysmenorrhea, including Bupleurum and Tang Gui, Corydalis Formula (or Corydalis Analgesic Tablets), and Ginseng and Atractylodes.
Yoga and Meditation – Spend a few minutes every day doing yoga to keep your body strong and relaxed. Gentle Spinal Twists can be helpful. Take a break from yoga during your menstrual period.