Menstrual cramps are pains in the abdominal and pelvic area that usually occur before and during menstruation. Some women have menstrual cramps every month, some have them on occasions and some lucky ones never have them.
Menstrual cramps occur a couple of days before menstruation, peak during the first day, and end after a day or two. They can be mild or severe. Mild cramps can be just a sensation of heaviness in the abdomen and they are usually short, while severe menstrual cramps can seriously interfere with regular activities for several days. The pain can extend from the belly to the lower back and legs.
Menstrual cramps, also known by the medical term “primary dysmenorrhea” are not the same thing as the premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, although the two conditions sometimes occur at the same time, especially in the days just before the menstruation.
There are different ways to treat menstrual cramps and each woman over time finds the method that suits her best.
If a woman suffering from menstrual cramps wants to avoid medication, she can try methods like rest, relaxation or sleep, exercise (especially walking), and quitting smoking. Yoga seems to be helpful for some women, as well as abdominal massages. Many women have testified that an orgasm helps relieve the pain. A heating pad or a warm bath helps relax the muscles of the abdomen and soothe cramps.
As for a pharmacological options, there are many drugs suitable for menstrual cramps and most of them are available over-the-counter. Aspirin and Tylenol help with mild cramps, while for moderate and severe pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen) seem to have more effect.
In order to obtain the best effects of pain-reducing drugs, a woman should start taking them before the pain starts and take them on a schedule. For example, ibuprofen should be taken every 4-6 hours in the first few days. However, a doctor should be consulted before taking any of these drugs, as some of them may cause complications. Ibuprofen can cause peptic ulcers and Aspirin may not be suitable for persons with a blood disease, because it is also a blood thinner.
PMS involves more symptoms than menstrual cramps. Women who have PMS may experience disturbances on physical, emotional and psychological levels. Even though it is not yet clear why PMS occurs, most experts agree that it may be result of alternation or interaction between female sex hormones and neurotransmitters.
There are some tips that can help a woman get through a PMS. Exercise is very effective for relieving tension and anxiety. The amount of stress a woman is exposed to in this period should be as low as possible. Emotional support of friends and family plays an important role in this. As for nutrition, salt and sugar intake should be increased. This goes for alcohol and caffeine consumption and cigarettes as well. Supplements of vitamins E, A and B6, as well as magnesium and zinc, can relieve PMS symptoms.