Cramps affect a majority of women before and during their period. These cramps can range from mild discomfort to extreme pain that leaves you unable to do anything except lie down. If period pain is affecting your life and work every month, home remedies and alternative medicine practices can ease your pain and help you get back on track within a little time. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Sergei A. Sobolevsky at Downtown Vein & Vascular Center for detailed information about menstrual cramps and their causes. A little help and guidance from an expert may be all your need to stop the irritating period cramps.
Menstrual cramps occur when the uterus contracts to shed its lining, also known as the uterine lining. They feel like a painful tightening in the lower belly and back that lasts anywhere between 48 to 72 hours around the time you start bleeding and causes pain in the stomach, lower back, groin, or upper thighs.
Dysmenorrhea is the medical name for period pain typically caused by menstrual cramps. It is a common condition, and more than half of the women who menstruate report some pain from period cramps each month. While some women only experience mild cramps, others are not as lucky and suffer from extreme pain that affects their lives to a great extent.
While cramps are not usually a sign of a serious health condition, they could be if they persist or cause intolerable pain.
What Causes Period Pain?
There may be many reasons for period pain. However, if you experience chronic painful periods, it is a concerning matter, as it begins to affect your normal routine and life. Whatever the reason for your pain and discomfort, seeing a doctor can help you understand why you get painful cramps every month.
Some of the most common causes of painful periods are:
PMS – Premenstrual Syndrome
Studies show that PMS affects 90% of menstruating females. It begins a few days before the period and continues into the first or two days of menstruation. According to doctors, PMS is caused by a dip in estrogen and progesterone levels before the start of the period. Symptoms of PMS include fatigue, irritability, and menstrual cramps.
PMDD – Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
It is a more severe form of PMS that affects about 5% of menstruating women. Doctors are not sure what exactly causes PMDD, but women with higher stress levels, depression, or family depression are more likely to experience it. Symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS, but they are more intense, and the cramps are more painful.
Uterine fibroids are harmless growths that may develop in the lining of the uterus. They can be so small that it is impossible to see them with the naked eye, or they could be big enough to change the shape of your uterus. They usually appear during childbearing years and shrink or go away completely, after menopause.
There are no known reasons for uterine fibroids development, but certain factors can increase the risk of fibroids, including African American ancestry, family history of fibroids, and obesity. As fibroids develop and grow in the uterine lining, they can result in heavy periods and painful cramps during menstruation.
Learn available treatments our top fibroid doctors offer:
- Holistic fibroid pain management
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- Uterine fibroid removal
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Ovarian cysts develop in the ovaries, usually during ovulation. They are harmful sacs of fluid that form in or on the body. Many women develop at least one small cyst every month that fades naturally. However, some women may have multiple or large ovarian cysts that can cause pain or result in other compilations. Large or multiple cysts can be managed with medical treatment.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can also cause ovarian cysts. PCOS is a condition where hormonal imbalance leads to the growth of many small, harmless cysts in the ovaries that can cause painful periods, problems in getting pregnant, insulin resistance, and other health issues. Symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, excess hair on the face and body, weight gain, difficulty losing weight, acne, and thinning hair. You can manage POCS symptoms with medical treatments recommended by your doctor.
PID – Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Infection in the uterus and ovaries is called pelvic inflammatory disease. Infection occurs when bacteria from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) make their way up to the reproductive organs. PID can also occur after a surgical procedure. While many women do not experience any symptoms of PID, it can cause painful cramps for others.
Endometriosis is a condition in which the uterine lining, known as the endometrium, starts growing outside the uterus, usually in other parts of the reproductive organs, like the ovaries or the fallopian tubes, instead of growing inside the uterus. When the body tries to shed the uterine tissue during the period, the endometrium growing outside the uterus has nowhere to go. It can become trapped in the body leading to painful cramps, heaving bleeding, irritation, and inflammation.
Endometriosis can be managed with medications and surgical procedures in certain cases.
It is a condition when the endometrium grows into the muscle wall of the uterus. The endometrium can affect the entire uterus muscle or one spot. Adenomyosis causes severe cramps that can be eased and treated with medical assistance. Doctors are not sure what exactly causes it, but women who have borne children or undergone uterine surgery are at higher risk of developing it.
13 Things That Can Stop Period Cramps
Going through the same pain and discomfort every month is not easy. It affects your life and work, leaving you unable to do anything except lie down or take pain-relieving medications that do not always work. The good news is that several remedies can stop or at least reduce the severity of period cramps and help you live better.
It is important to remember that they may not always work, especially if you have some chronic condition or face severe symptoms, but they can offer relief from mild to moderate period pain.
Read on to find out how to ease your period pain at home without putting in much effort.
Increase your water intake to keep bloating down
Bloating not only causes discomfort but can also worsen menstrual cramps. Drinking water during your period can keep the bloating down and alleviate the pain it is causing. Also, drinking hot water can increase the flow of blood through the body and relax the tight and stressed muscles, easing the discomfort. It can help with cramps that are caused by uterine contractions.
Take herbal tea to reduce inflammation and muscle spasms
A cup of herbal tea can relieve the inflammation and muscle spasms that cause pain. Certain herbal teas have anti-inflammatory properties and antispasmodic compounds that reduce muscle spasms in the uterus resulting in cramping. You can choose from chamomile, fennel, or ginger tea.
These herbal teas not only relieve menstrual cramps but are also helpful in relieving stress and insomnia. Add some honey to the tea to make it more flavorful and soothing.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods to prevent cramps
Anti-inflammatory foods offer natural relief from cramps as they help promote blood flow and relax the uterus. Luckily these foods taste great too, which makes them easy to eat. Try eating berries, tomatoes, and pineapples, and add spices like turmeric, ginger, or garlic to your foods, as they contain anti-inflammatories properties. Leafy green vegetables, almonds, walnuts, and fatty fish, like salmon, can also prevent cramps.
Research shows that a low-fat vegetarian diet eases cramps. You can start by eliminating less healthy fats like the saturated fats found in animal products for healthier options like unsaturated fats found in olive oil.
Stay away from unhealthy treats to avoid extra bloating
Brownies, cakes, and French fries might sound delicious and offer comfort when you are not feeling so well, but they contain sugars, trans fats, and salt that cause inflammation and bloating, which can worsen muscle pain and cramps. The right way to prevent cramps is by making a healthy choice, such as a banana or another piece of fruit to satisfy your sugar cravings, or opting for unsalted nuts if you are craving a treat. Unhealthy treats not only come with unwanted calories but also increase bloating and pain, so it is best to avoid them.
Decaf coffee can help with period pain
If you are a regular coffee drinker, switch to decaf coffee during your period. It is because caffeine narrows the blood vessels, which constrict the uterus, worsening the cramps. If you rely on coffee to beat the afternoon slump, eat a high-protein snack or take a 10-minute walk to boost your energy.
Try dietary supplements to ease the menstrual symptoms
Dietary supplements are beneficial for the body and ease menstrual symptoms by reducing inflammation. Vitamin D aids the body in absorbing calcium and lessens inflammation caused by periods. Other supplements, including omega 3, vitamin E, and magnesium, can keep down the inflammation and even make your periods less painful.
You will have to take these supplements every day and not just during the period for the best results. Some supplements interact with medications, so it is best to consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Heat helps with cramps
Applying a hot pack eases the pain as heat relaxes the muscle wall, improves blood flow, and relieves tension, which in turn, makes you feel better. Try lying down with a heating pad on the painful area, take a hot shower, or relax in a hot bath, and it will ease the cramps.
Exercise relaxes the muscles and releases endorphins
Exercise may not be the first thing that comes to your mind while you are having period cramps, but you may be surprised to know how it can help you. Gentle exercise relaxes the muscles and releases endorphins, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that reduces pain and makes you feel happy. Fifteen minutes of yoga, light stretching, or walking are all you need to feel better during your periods.
If exercise is already a part of your physical routine, tracking your periods can improve your athletic performance. You can look forward to overall mental and physical betterment and avoid pain during the periods with exercise.
Stay away from stress to improve period symptoms
Stress can worsen the cramps and aggravate your pain. Learn stress-relieving techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga, or practice your favorite way to relieve stress, such as reading a book, listening to music, or gardening. If you are not sure how to relieve stress, try guided imagery. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine you are in a safe, calm place you want to be in. Stay focused on this space for a few minutes while taking slow, deep breaths, and you will feel better.
Avoid stressful situations at work or home, particularly during this time, and you will notice it improves your symptoms.
Try over-the-counter medications to relieve pain
The prostaglandin hormone can cause muscle contractions and pain which can be relieved by anti-inflammatory medicines. Over-the-counter medications can provide fast-acting relief by reducing the number of prostaglandins in your body. They include anti-inflammatories and acetaminophen that relieve mild to moderate pain. It is best to take the medicines when you feel the cramps coming as these medicines do not cure the cramps magically, but they can improve the pain significantly.
It is best to check with your doctor before taking any medication to ensure it is a good choice for you, especially if you have a history of bleeding or stomach or kidney issues.
Go for a massage to reduce cramping and stress
It is found that massage therapy is effective in reducing menstrual pain in women with endometriosis. Massage may reduce uterine spasms by relaxing the uterus. It is best to consult a professional therapist who understands your need for massage and focuses on the abdominal area. A full body massage that reduces your overall stress may also help to relieve menstrual cramps.
Try alternative medicine for pain relief
Alternative medicine practices like acupuncture and acupressure have also become popular ways to relieve PMS pain. Acupuncture is a practice that stimulates the body by placing needles at specific points in the skin. Acupressure stimulates the body, without needles, by putting pressure on certain areas of the body, which provides relief from pain. These practices help you relax, release muscle tension and improve blood flow throughout the body that makes you feel better.
Start with hormonal birth control
If your cramps are caused by hormonal imbalances, taking birth control can ease this pain. Balancing your levels of estrogen and progesterone helps to thin the uterine lining, so it sheds more easily. Hormonal birth control also regulates the length and frequency of your period. Some forms of birth control can completely alleviate period cramps by stopping the period altogether. It is essential to talk to your doctor about birth control options, including pills, birth control shots, or hormonal IUD, to determine which type of birth control would work best for you.
When You Should See a Doctor For Period Pain?
If you have tried all the treatments to stop cramps or ease them but continue to have painful periods, it is best to visit your doctor. Cramps during a period are common, but intense pain is not normal.
Call your doctor if you continue to experience:
- Severe pain that keeps you away from performing normal activities
- Intense menstrual cramps at or after you turn 25 years
Extreme pain before or during your period can be a sign of some underlying health condition that needs medical assistance. The doctor will investigate the causes of severe pain and cramps during your period and recommend steps to ease the discomfort.
Dr. Sergei A. Sobolevsky at Downtown Vein & Vascular Center provides comprehensive care to women who experience intense pain during their periods. He investigates the reasons behind your pain by performing medical examination and tests and helps you understand how your body works and why you are suffering so much pain. Dr. Sobolevsky also recommends the best treatments for menstrual cramps that can go a long way to improving your quality of life during that time of the month.
Sergei Sobolevsky, MD, is a leading specialist in endovascular medicine with experience in vascular and interventional radiology. Dr. Sobolevsky has decades of experience in the field, with over 25,000 procedures performed, accumulating extensive experience in image-guided minimally invasive medicine, diagnosing and treating a range of conditions.
Dr. Sobolevsky earned his Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree in 1997 from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He received his specialty clinical training in vascular and interventional radiology at Harvard University. Later, he earned his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Recognized as a Castle Connolly Top Doctor and named to the Top Doctors New York Metro Area in 2020, 2021, and 2022, Dr. Sobolevsky is licensed in multiple states, has delivered presentations at numerous institutions in the US and abroad, and now acts as a clinical advisor for the biomedical industry. He also held multiple positions in the field during his career, including Chief of Vascular and Interventional Radiology at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, NY, Senior Vice President in Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at Artann Laboratories in North Brunswick, NJ, and Medical Director at the American Endovascular and Amputation Prevention Center in Brooklyn.More About Dr. Sobolevsky