Painful period, or pain related to the menstrual cycle is one of the most common gynecology complaints, and one that is often overlooked.
Painful cramps associated with menstruation are the result of prostaglandin production within the endometrium (uterine lining). During the period, or even just prior to the period starting, the uterine muscles contract to stimulate the menstrual flow to release. These contractions can be too strong and my cut off the blood supply within the uterus. This lack of oxygen is what triggers the release of prostaglandins and sends signals of pain to the brain. The presence of prostaglandins trigger the uterus to further contract, ultimately causing more pain.
The pain is often severe for many women that their lives are significantly disrupted and they either need to stop participating in their normal activities or resort to taking painkillers just to get by.
Primary Dysmenorrhea: Menstrual pain without pelvic pathology.
Secondary Dysmennorhea: Menstrual pain associated with an underlying pathology.
It is hard to say why this condition is so common, but it may have something to do with chronic inflammation. The standard bio-medical treatment is Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.
Differential diagnosis in bio-medicine
Menstrual pain may be due the following conditions:
- Intrauterine Device (IUD)
Menstrual pain is one of the most commonly seen gynecology complaints-
This pain is not something you have to live with-there are many natural options to reduce menstrual pain.
Why it is best to treat naturally
One essential rule of medicine is “To do no harm”. This means that one should not prescribe a treatment that is more harmful then the problem the person is currently experiencing. It is not very responsible to prescribe a pill that will take away the pain at the time, but cause other significant problems down the road. Bio-medical medications, although sometimes necessary have some severe consequences and should not be the monthly plan to deal with menstrual pain.
One major thing to consider is that pain is body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. This is an indication that something needs to be addressed and that there is an imbalance. If you do not make any changes to try to fix the imbalance, it will probably not go away, but will continue to become further and further out of balance and start affecting other systems.
Our culture has normalized the painful period, but it doesn’t mean that it is normal. It is not normal to have pain every month.
There are many proven and effective remedies to relieve period pain. They may not be taught in medical school, because medical school is now focused on using pharmaceutical methods.
Side effect of Painkillers:
Not meant for long term use –
- There is a substantial increased risk of heart attack
- Effect on liver toxicity
- Stomach bleeding
- Significant increased risk for stroke and heart attack
Side effects of HRT- Birth Control Pill:
Birth control pills are often a go-to remedy when dealing with anything period related. It is generally not a good idea to start hormone replacement therapy as a first line of defence, as the pills alter the natural hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian hormonal axis and weaken the body’s ability to regulate it’s hormones even more. Even with the common immediate side effects such as mood swings, irregular bleeding and weight gain aside, there are significant long term risks-such as blood clots, stroke, cancer and infertility.
Risks and Side Effects
Ibuprofen is a standard treatment given to many women for the treatment of their menstrual cycle pain. Not enough thought is given to the risks and dangers of the medication it’s self-especially with long term repeated uses and of the dangers of not addressing the underlying problem in the body.
This means that people are not making an informed decision- knowing the relevant facts and implications of the choice. It is not enough to simply know that this pill will take my pain away, but it is important to know the accompanying risks of using that pain relief pill.
Ibuprofen specifically has been linked to a significant increased risk of heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular death
Approximately 3,200 people die each year due to chronic NSAID use; over the counter medications that are deemed safe and effective.
Other Lifestyle Suggestions:
- Supplement with magnesium. Epsom salts, which are magnesium sulphate or magnesium flakes which are magnesium chloride are a great way to get magnesium transdermally, or magnesium oil can be applied after a bath or shower.
- Get some sunshine, which is important for Vitamin D, which also helps in magnesium and calcium absorption. Don’t get too much sun that you get burned, but aim to get a little pink.
- Omega 3 fatty acids can help to ease pain due to their anti-inflammatory effects. Cod liver oil, hemp seeds and flax seeds are excellent sources of omega 3.
- Avoid caffeine, processed foods and phytoestrogens such as soy.
- Get rid of toxic ingredients which may be making your liver sluggish such as toxic tampons and pads, plastics (and canned food which is lined with PBA), toxic cosmetics and sunscreens etc.
- Get some exercise, which moves the Qi, can help to improve cramps, you may not want to exercise during your cramps, but move when you can.
Treatment with TCM- Traditional Chinese Medicine
In TCM, menstrual pain is diagnosed like other types of pain in the body. An important TCM saying is applicable here:
“When there is pain, there is blockage [of Qi or Blood]”
Pain is always the signal that there is a deeper underlying problem. The root of the pain can be broken down to be either deficiency or excess. Based on different signs and symptoms, we can break dysmenorrhea down into common patterns of imbalance in Chinese Medicine.
Qi stagnation and Blood stasis: Usually due to emotional factors, especially anger causing liver qi stagnation with blocks the blood circulation in the Chong and Ren meridians.
Pain beginning 1-2 days before the period, distending low abdominal pain, worse with pressure, breast distention, light period, colour is dark purple, pain is relieved after passing clots, tongue can be purplish or normal or may have purple spots on it, pulse is tight or rolling.
Cold accumulating in the uterus: Cold attacks the body either directly from not keeping warm or covering enough or by eating cold food and drink. The cold accumulates in the Chong and Ren meridians causing the blood to coagulate and become blocked. People with Yang deficiency may also be susceptible to this pattern.
Cold pain that is worse during the end of the period, pain is better with warmth and pressure, light period, sore and weak lower back, tongue may have a white moist coating, pulse is deep.
Damp-cold: External cold attacks and combines with dampness which the root is from weak digestion. The Damp-cold lodges in the Chong and Ren meridians coagulating and blocking the free flow of blood.
Cold pain starting before the period that is better with warmth and worse with pressure, light flow, dark black clots, body aches, tongue has a thick white coating, pulse is deep and tight
Damp-heat: Damp-heat which is similar to infection and inflammation is lodged in the Chong and Ren meridians, blocking the flow of blood.
Abdominal pain before period begins and is worse with pressure, burning sensation during period, dark red colour, thick with clots, distending pain in the lower back, yellow and thick vaginal discharge, low grade fever or feeling hot, yellow urine, red tongue with thick yellow coating, pulse is tight and rapid.
Qi and Blood deficiency: Spleen and Stomach (the digestive system) deficiency results in not enough blood being produced to nourish the Chong and Ren meridians. Alternatively, long term illness may exhaust the Blood leading to a deficiency.
Dull abdominal pain during and after the period or an empty sensation of the abdomen and vagina, better with pressure, light period, light colour, fatigue, pale complexion, poor appetite, loose stool, tongue is light red, pulse is thin and weak.
Liver and Kidney deficiency: Weak constitution, too many pregnancies and deliveries, over indulgence in sex leads to Liver and Kidney deficiency which is not able to nourish the Chong and Ren meridians.
Dull low back pain near the end of the period, light colour period, hot flashes, tinnitus, pulse is thin.