Period pain is such a common health complaint, often shrugged off as just part of being a female. Most women have their own go-to treatment when they feel that first sign or twinge of pain, but from time to time it's important to assess all your management options, to ensure you're getting the best, safest and most effective treatment for you.
Stop and ask yourself…
The first step in assessing your treatment options for period pain is to make sure what you are experiencing is normal period pain. The odds are that it is, but in some cases it might be a symptom of something more serious such as endometriosis, adenomyosis or an infection.
To work out whether your levels of pain are normal or not, ask yourself:
Does my pain go on longer than the first one or two days of my period?
Is my pain still present even if I take pain-relief medication or the contraceptive pill?
Does my pain interfere with my normal activities and stop me from attending school, work or social activities?
If you answered yes to any of these questions and are distressed by your period pain, then you may need to speak to your doctor to get extra help or further investigation.
NSAIDs – long name, fast relief
For normal period pain, the most common treatments are the pain-relief medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or in short, NSAIDs. These are available over the counter at the chemist, or in stronger doses with a prescription from your doctor. There are many different types available (for example, ibuprofen, naproxen, mefenamic acid or diclofenac), but the three important considerations with all these medications are:
They should always be taken with food (to avoid irritation to your stomach lining)
You should never take more than what the directions on the packet say
They may not suitable for you if you have asthma, or stomach, kidney or liver problems
Contraception – not just for pregnancy prevention
The oral contraceptive pill (known as the Pill) can help to ease period pain because it thins the lining of the uterus (womb).
The Pill also reduces the amount of prostaglandin chemicals your body releases. Prostaglandins play a role in inflammation and are involved in period pain.
Often a pill with more progestogen than oestrogen has the best effect on period pain.
The Mirena ® IUD, another contraceptive method, is currently the most effective treatment for pain from the uterus and lasts up to five years. The Mirena ® helps relieve period pain as it slowly releases a progestogen medication directly to the uterus, making periods lighter and less painful. It is safe for women who have and haven't been pregnant before.
Read more about how the Pill and the Mirena ® IUD work – as well as their pros and cons – on the Jean Hailes contraception pages.
Advice from our naturopath
When it comes to treating period pain, Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella explains that naturopathy often focuses on the cause of the pain. 'Natural treatment of period pain usually isn't a quick fix," says Sandra. 'Treatments are generally taken the whole cycle through, not just in the pre-menstrual phase. Also, you usually need to stick with the treatment for three cycles to see if something is working or not."
In some small research studies, fish oil supplements have been found to reduce period pain. The omega-3 fats found in fish oil act as an anti-inflammatory, but unlike NSAIDs, they do not work straight away, needing at least three cycles at the right dose to have an effect.
The nutrient magnesium is also useful in period pain, as it helps to ease the cramping muscles of the uterus.
'There are some wonderful herbs that can help period pain, but these are best taken under the supervision of a qualified naturopath", says Sandra. 'A simple home remedy most women can try is ginger tea, made on the stove with the pot lid on. Use fresh ginger and add honey at the end – lovely to sip on when the pain strikes."
New technology, ancient advice
One of the most simple steps in managing your period pain is setting aside extra time and energy to take care of yourself in the days leading up to your period, when you might have some cramping or other pain. Acknowledging that you need extra rest, less stress, more nutritious food and lots of laughter and fun on these days can help to decrease the intensity of the pain.
Use a phone app to track your cycle so you know when your period is due. Set reminders in your phone to prompt you to take care of yourself. And as grandmothers everywhere advise us, if all else fails and the pain is getting you down, curl up with your trusty hot water bottle – research supports that this ancient advice helps too.
Learn more about periods, why they occur and what to expect by watching the new (and adorable) Jean Hailes animation.
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health
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