How to deal with severe menstrual cramps
Every month, at least 1 in 4 persons who menstruate experience menstrual pain that keeps them from engaging in other activities. This pain is a medical condition called dysmenorrhea.
Symptoms of dysmenorrhea include pain in the lower abdomen, back, and/or thighs. Pain can range from mild to severe and span from 1 – 3 days.
When a person’s period starts, their endometrial cells–the cells that form the lining of the uterus–break down, releasing large amounts of prostaglandin. Prostaglandin is a hormone created when a part of the body is injured. It causes the uterus to contract and when the muscles are too tight, it can cut off the oxygen supply of nearby blood vessels. Menstrual cramps happen when parts of the muscle lose their oxygen supply. Sometimes, prostaglandin enters the bloodstream and causes other symptoms like vomiting, headaches, and diarrhoea.
Last month, I discovered that Ibuprofen, the drug I usually take to manage my intense cramps belongs to a class of drugs called NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers) which worsens my stomach ulcer. This drug is also unsafe for people with asthma. So I decided to look for more ways to manage my cramps without further damaging my body.
This involves holding a hot water bag/bottle to your abdomen or sitting in a bath filled with hot water. The heat helps to relax the uterus’ muscles which increases blood flow. If you have to work, you can wear a waist bag with a portable water bag or bottle in it filled with hot water to help ease the pain as you complete your to-do list.
Tea works the same way a hot water bag does, relaxing the muscles from within, easing your pain. Chamomile tea is particularly known for its ability to ease the pain. It is full of anti-inflammatory substances that help suppress prostaglandins.
For my last period, I chopped ginger into tiny bits and boiled it in water. This relieved my pain greatly. A study conducted in 2009 of university students, found that ginger powder is as effective as ibuprofen for dysmenorrhea.
I am not big on complex exercise routines, but I have done yoga on and off for about five years. I have found that doing yoga during my period helps reduce pain. There are specific poses like the adapted child’s pose, corpse pose, or pigeon pose; that target your belly, pelvis, hips, and lower back, where you feel the most pain.
Massages encourage blood flow which in turn reduces the pain. For double effect, try taking warm water while getting a belly massage. You can also infuse essential oils in your massages like lavender oil which generally relieves pain and stress. Peppermint oil is also a great choice. Remember to mix your essential oil with a carrier oil like coconut oil before rubbing it onto your skin.
Free bleeding is simply allowing yourself to bleed without sanitary products like a pad, tampons, or menstrual cups.
I have read about period poverty before and how many women have no other choice but to free bleed. Also, how it is used as a protest tool. Last month, I tried free bleeding to reduce my cramps. Some people allow the blood flow without inhibition, others use period-proof clothing. I used a T-shirt I didn’t mind losing. The important thing is to make sure whatever you choose is clean. Of course, you remain home for the time you choose to free bleed. I noticed that my cramps reduced significantly without any pants around my waist or a tampon stuffed in my vagina. It was a refreshing experience, and I will do it again whenever I can.
Curbing menstrual pain is a continuous process and should not be reserved for just a few days to your period. If you cut drugs out of your cycle, here are other things you can do to help reduce your menstrual cramps:
- Drink more water: Increasing your daily water intake can help reduce bloating which intensifies menstrual symptoms.
- Avoid certain foods: Salty foods, fatty foods, carbonated beverages, alcohol, and caffeine are known to increase water retention in the body which intensifies cramps for people who menstruate. So foods like cookies, bread, pasta, etc should be eaten with care.
- Eat certain foods: Anti-inflammatory foods like tomatoes, bell peppers, oranges, and green leafy vegetables help fight the inflammation that makes menstrual cramps worse. Beans, almonds, and coldwater fish high in omega-3 fatty acids are also great choices.
For some people, painful periods may never go away. Others swear by sex or childbirth. However, if you experience unbearable menstrual cramps, please try seeing a gynaecologist.
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