Here we go again. Every month the same old story repeats itself. How? The mundane pleasantries of life are overwhelmed by those tell-tale cramps that often yield to the strong urge to lying curled on the coach in pain with dizziness, nausea, abdominal discomfort and a sore lower back, plus unwelcomed – yet inevitable – emotional swings.

Becoming familiar with the basics of menstrual cycle-related pain can help you understand if your pain can be addressed with me and mitigated, if possible with functional health remedies.

So what exactly causes those agonizing monthly experiences?

Up to 20% of women suffer from cramping severe enough to interfere with their daily routine. Many suffer in silence; those women may, despite being in agony, just grimace through it in silence. Known as Dysmenorrhea, severe menstrual pain is common, with some women suffering from intense cramps induced by uterine contractions. The lining of the uterus releases certain chemicals called “prostaglandins” which increase the intensity of the contractions, especially during the first couple of days of a woman’s menstrual cycle. High levels of prostaglandins may also induce the associating sense of nausea and lightheadedness.

Women who suffer from dysmenorrhea also experience soreness in the lower back and cramping in the lower area of the abdomen during their periods. This pain can range from dull and annoying to severe, and it could be an agony in some extreme cases. Uterine contractions cause much of the pain felt because the contractions decrease the blood flow to the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) thus temporarily hindering its nutrition. This could be associated with a myriad of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loose bowel movements or diarrhea, sense of bloating, headaches, and/or lightheadedness, all of which can vary in severity but any of which would be just adding to the suffering.

How to alleviate the symptoms at home?

If you are among the unlucky ones who get bad cramps, here are some tips that can help ease the pain:

  • Do some gentle exercise

Regular exercising most days of the week can make you feel better. Aerobic workouts, such as walking, jogging, biking, or swimming, help produce chemicals that block pain. Go for a relaxing walk in good weather or use the treadmill indoors, ride your bike, or opt for any other exercise you find joy in. This will help increase the blood flow which, eventually, can help ease the cramps. Keep a gentle tempo and try only 20-30 minutes on your exercise bike or treadmill.

  • A healthy diet is always welcomed

A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is always recommended. Make you meals small and regular as this will help easing the bloating and ensure you take in plenty of water throughout the day; it is important to remain well-hydrated all the time (keep a water bottle handy throughout the day). A glass of milk every morning is an added value for your body as calcium is known to be a good remedy for cramps.

  • Heat application

Soaking yourself in a hot bath or using a heating pad or a hot water bottle on your lower abdomen (below your belly button) may ease menstrual cramps. Applying heat may be just as effective as over-the-counter pain medication for relieving menstrual cramps. Before hitting the bed to sleep, you can take a hot shower and direct the hot water flow onto the lower part of your belly.

  • Drink chamomile tea

Studies report chamomile tea to increase levels of glycine, which helps relieve muscle spasms. Glycine also acts as a nerve relaxant. This can help in relieving menstrual pain. Also, raspberry leaf or jasmine-flavored green tea may do wonders in calming your body and mind.

  • Massaging can ease the pain

Apply some lavender oil on your belly and massage it gently all over. Many reported that it helps in relieving the cramps within few minutes. Do light circular massaging movements with your fingertips around the lower belly area.

  • Over-the-counter oral pain-relievers

These anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. Ibuprofen, Diclofenac, etc.) are usually successful in alleviating menstrual cramps. You may start taking it a day or two prior to your anticipated menstruation start date. This may help you ease or even totally evade painful cramps. Continue taking the pills two to three days into your period, or until the cramps stop. Always take pain-relievers with meals so as to avoid stomach upset. Anti-inflammatory medications are not suitable for females with history of asthma, sensitive stomach, kidney and liver disease, so if you are not sure about it, consult your gynaecologist.

When to see your gynaecologist?

Menstrual cramps affect many women with menstruation, but there is no reason why those pains should intimidate your quality of life. You should consult your gynaecologist if those health tips do not help in easing the pain, if the pain worsens, or if bleeding gets heavier over time. There might be an underlying cause, and the ‘dreaded’ endometriosis could be a potential suspect.

Finally, it is proper to state that there’s no guaranteed way to relieve period pains, and what works for some women may not be as helpful for others. So, if you are experiencing moderate to severe pains or you are suspecting that something is beyond the ‘usual’, only your trusted gynaecologist can help assess and manage your pains effectively. Yes …it’s not unpopular to request a gynecologist’s appointment over menstrual cramps, but a simple pelvic exam is all what you need … Better to be safe than sorry!

Dr. Anna Sepiolo
European Board in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
American Board & Fellowship in Anti-Aging, Metabolic and Functional Medicine