Menstrual cramps, or dysmenorrhea, may be your least favorite part of being a woman. Painful periods can include cramping pain in the abdomen, dull but steady abdominal pain, and pain that radiates up into your back or down into your legs.
You might also experience headaches, diarrhea and stomach cramps, or dizziness.
The bad news is that these experiences can be a normal part of being a woman. Prostoglandins, which are hormone-like substances, trigger both the pain and the contractions that let the uterus shed its lining. In other words, they cause your experience of menstruation. More than half of American women experience cramps. They usually get less severe as you get older, and many women find that they stop having cramps after they’ve had a baby.
The good news is that these experiences can be a normal part of being a woman. If they’re associated with your period, they’re not something you need to worry about.
Relief for painful periods
Stop smoking, if you smoke. Smoking is associated with more painful periods.
Exercise regularly. You might feel like lying down with a heating pad, but going for a walk may do more to reduce your cramps. Regular exercise is the key, though. Women who exercise regularly have less trouble with cramps.
That heating pad can help, too. If you suffer from occasional painful periods, go ahead and lie down with a hot water bottle or heating pad till you feel better.
Eat more veggies. A study published in the journal Cancer reported that a high fiber, low-fat diet reduced menstrual cramps significantly. Another study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that reducing animal foods (which are higher in fat than vegetables) significantly reduced both pain and PMS. Add some whole grains and Swiss chard to your plate, skip the chips and doughnuts, and you’ll probably feel better.
Pain medication such as ibuprofen can also help. Most women find that taking this kind of over-the-counter medication on the first day of their period, for as much as three days, works better than waiting until pain is severe.
When to call your doctor
If pain like menstrual cramps is not associated with your menstrual period, it could be a sign of another condition. Women who start having severe cramps after the age of 25 should also ask their doctors.
While more than half of American women have painful periods, some women have pain that is more severe. If the pain keeps you from going to work or social events, talk to your gynecologist.
If it’s been a while since you’ve visited a gynecologist, give Renaissance Women’s Healthcare a call. A well-woman check up is a good opportunity to ask all those questions and have important health screenings.