Help With Painful Periods

Question

What do I tell a student that doesn’t want to go on the pill for severe cramping, now that she knows much more about all the side effects, yet is tempted to do so, because she remembers how it helped in the past.
Fr. T

Answer

Last Updated: November 24, 2021
There are a number of things a young woman can do to relieve menstrual cramps. Some of the lifestyle measures will also improve overall health. The lifestyle measures are not a quick fix for cramps, but will continue to improve the situation over the following two or three cycles.

The major cause of cramps, or “primary dysmenorrhea” is an excess of series two prostaglandins, that arise from arachadonic acid. Although necessary for body functions, when these fatty acids are out of balance with the series one and series three prostaglandins, excess inflammation and and menstrual cramps can result.

Improving the diet is a fundamental principle of improving cramps. By decreasing consumption of saturated fats (found in meat, eggs, dairy) or trans-fats, and increasing omega-3 fatty acids (fish and nuts) the body will alter its production of the inflammatory prostaglandins. In addition, sugar and refined carbohydrates increase insulin, which also provokes inflammation. Reducing these items and eating several servings of fruits and vegetables daily can be very helpful.

A simple way to increase omega 3’s is to take at least 2000 mg. fish oil daily. There are numerous other health benefits to fish oil. Another extremely helpful supplement for cramps is magnesium 200 mg.- 500 mg. daily. These supplements should be taken every day. In addition, ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) or stronger prescription strength versions, can be very helpful during the menses. These drugs work best if taken at the very outset of cramps.

Heat to the pelvic area and exercise can relieve muscle tension. Exceptional pain relief for menstrual cramps can be provided by some yoga postures, for example the diamond pose and camel pose.

Severe menstrual cramps that persist after treatment may be symptom of endometriosis and require surgery or more powerful drugs. Birth control pills may mask endometriosis without really treating it. To avoid increasing the risk of breast cancer, infertility, stroke, cervical cancer and numerous other hazards of the pill, the measures enumerated above are a superior treatment for cramps.

Mary L. Davenport, M.D.

Answered By:

Mary Davenport, MD, MS
Mary Davenport, MD, FACOG, an obstetrician/gynecologist from the Oakland Region of California, offers telehealth services over MyCatholicDoctor.com She graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine and completed her residency at UC San Diego. Dr. Davenport is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and serves on the Advisory Board of the California Association of Natural Family Planning.

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