14 September 2021
Now, we’re not miracle-workers, but we do think we have some tips and tricks that’ll help you alleviate some of your period pain. In order for us to do that, we need to cover the basics. What causes cramping in the first place?
The medical term for period cramps is dysmenorrhea. It describes the feeling of throbbing or cramping in your lower abdomen area. These cramps can occur while you’re on your period or just before. For many people, having cramps just before is a sign that you’ll be getting your period within a couple of days.
Now, what’s the medical science behind cramping? Well, for starters, your menstrual cycle is just a process of your body continuously preparing itself for a potential pregnancy. So each cycle, the uterine lining will thicken for a potential fertilized egg to be implanted in itself. When there is no fertilized egg and no pregnancy, the body needs to get rid of the excess lining and the unfertilized egg. This happens in the form of your period. Now, why does the cramping occur? In order for the uterine lining to shed and exit your body, a hormone-like substance called a prostaglandin will trigger the uterus to contract. You feel pain when the muscle contracts too tightly causing a temporary lack of oxygen supply to those muscles. If you’re someone with pre-existing inflammation in your tissues, you may likely produce more prostaglandins leading to more cramping and pain.
There are two forms of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea occurs commonly among people with periods, and it can be managed easily with pain-relieving medication, supplements, and heat packs. Secondary dysmenorrhea causes intense pain, as a result of more deep-rooted issues within reproductive organs. Some example are:
- Endometriosis: This is a condition where the tissue begins to grow on the external surface of your uterus. The tissue is similar to the tissue that lines the internal surface of your uterus called your endometrium. During your period, your body will try to expel the external tissue alongside the internal tissue causing intense pain and swelling.
- Adenomyosis: Similar to endometriosis, adenomyosis describes the process of the endometrium beginning to grow into the uterus muscles. This can also cause the uterus to swell and create intense pain during your period.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: When a bacterial infection is left untreated, it can worsen into PID which can cause pain in the lower abdomen and pain during sex.
In this article, we’ll be covering how to manage primary dysmenorrhea or regular period cramps. If you want immediate relief from pain, you can opt to use over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve). If your pain is unbearable or you aren’t finding relief from OTC medication, then speak to your doctor.
Here are some other tips:
Certain foods are known to fight inflammation, and inflammation is what causes pain. Examples of these foods include: leafy vegetables, fatty fish (salmon & tuna), fruits (specifically berries, cherries, and oranges), olive oil, and tomatoes. Foods that cause inflammation are often ones that are fried, high in sugar or fat, and overall more processed. Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce the number of prostaglandins released during your period, leading to less cramping.
Sugar is an inflammatory food, and eating too much of it can intensify your period pain and cramps. Sugary foods cause sugar highs that temporarily boost your mood, but leave you feeling worse when the sugar wears off.
Many studies have found that exercise, especially low intensity workouts like yoga or walking/jogging, can help manage period pain and overall PMS symptoms. This type of exercise can help reduce some water weight that causes bloating and cramping. Exercise in general also releases endorphins - the “feel-good” hormone. Producing endorphins can help to mask the pain signals in your brain caused by cramping.
Drinking more water, especially hot water, can help relax your muscles and reduce pain. It can also help alleviate bloating, which also contributes to period pain.
Along with period cramps usually comes mood swings. Most, if not all, period symptoms are interconnected. So, how can you deal with the moodiness?
First off, reducing sugar intake is a good idea. We know that this is harder said than done. When you’re already feeling low and groggy, ice-cream or donuts sounds like a great idea to make you feel better. But, what this usually leads to is a sugar crash. Foods that are high in refined carbs or sugar will elevate your blood-sugar levels extremely fast. Sugar and carbs in general are known to increase serotonin levels, which is why your body craves sugar when you’re sad. Serotonin is the chemical that stabilizes mood and makes you feel happy. But, these sugar-highs don’t last long, and ultimately cause sugar crashes. This will often leave you feeling worse than before you had that donut or chocolate bar. This doesn’t mean you should avoid sugar completely, just consume it in healthy amounts and don’t binge the sweet treats. Spacing out small amounts of sugar and carbs in general will help keep blood-sugar levels consistent, reducing the chances of moodiness caused by low-blood sugar.
Now if you’re at work, we know that sometimes period pain can be debilitating. You’re probably not going to have access to a heat pack or a buffet of anti-inflammatory foods, so your best bet is to take OTC pain medication or supplements. Magnesium has been shown to relax muscle contractions by reducing prostaglandin production. Too much magnesium can lead to muscle weakness, so consult with your doctor if you begin to feel symptoms. Another trick is to stay very hydrated. If you’re drinking coffee at work, follow it with a glass of water. NSAIDS, like advil and motrin, help not only with pain but with mood swings as well.
TL;DR period cramps suck. But, we hope even one of the tips we shared helps you feel better on your period. Always know that PMS and period cramping are completely normal symptoms to have. If you ever feel alone or like you don’t know what to do about your cramping, or any period-related symptom for that matter, you can post in the community forum on the Aavia app! A fellow community member or one of our medical advisors will always be there to answer! You can also use the app to track your symptoms. If you notice that your cramps are getting worse, then you can consult with your doctor to see if there’s a greater issue that needs fixing.