Menstrual cycle is a regular as well as accepted series of monthly physiological changes in a woman during which she sheds the lining of her uterus. This physiological change begins at puberty and recurs all through a woman’s reproductive years. In medical parlance, menstrual cramps are called dysmenorrhea, denoting an agonizing menstruation period.
The entire menstrual cycle may last for anything between 21 and 35 days, while a 28-day menstrual cycle is considered to be normal. The cycle begins with the menstruation period and continues for anything between three and seven days. Very complicated physical as well as hormonal transformations take place throughout the remaining part of the menstruation cycle preparing the body of the woman for a potential pregnancy. When a woman is having her menstrual cycles, her body produces increased amounts of the hormone called estrogen. Augmented estrogen production makes the endometrium (uterine lining) grow and wait to receive a fertilized egg. In the meantime, the pituitary gland also secretes a hormone that stimulates the follicle leading to the development of a follicle for bearing the egg inside the ovary.
Ovulation takes place sometime during the middle of the menstrual cycle and the follicle releases an egg. Subsequently, there is a rise in the production of the hormone called progesterone, which makes the uterus ready to implant the fertilized egg. Progesterone works to help the endometrium contain an increased number of blood vessels as well as a glandular tissue - nourishing the uterus lining to develop into a supple and squishy ‘nest’ for the fertilized egg or embryo. However, this nest made ready by the body becomes unnecessary if the egg released by the follicle remains unfertilized and the levels of estrogen as well as progesterone decline roughly two weeks following ovulation. When this occurs, it sets off menstruation resulting in the disintegration of the spongy nest or endometrium, which leaves the body in the form of menstrual blood. Normally, a woman loses about 1/4 cup of blood during every menstruation period.
Generally, menstruation cramps occur just prior to the beginning of the menstrual cycle or during the onset of the menstrual period. Such cramps may continue for anything between some hours to a number of days. When a woman has menstrual cramps, she generally experiences muscle contractions or sudden spasms in the lower region of her abdomen. The cramps may possibly spread downwards along the thighs or towards the back and their severity may vary from slightly aching to twisting pains. Women experiencing severe menstrual cramps may also suffer from additional symptoms, including headache, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, exhaustion, bloating, edginess, fainting, dizziness, sore breasts, backaches, and even mood swings.
Compared to normal women, it appears that women experiencing menstrual cramps produce more prostaglandins - hormones released by the lining of the uterus. These hormones have an effect on the soft uterine muscles resulting in augmented contraction of the uterus. Such tightening of the uterine muscles obstructs the blood flow to the region, lessening the amount of oxygen received by the uterus, which, in turn, causes pain. Provided there is a significant rise in prostaglandin, it may also result in powerful gastrointestinal contractions, thereby causing diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea - some of the symptoms related to menstrual cramps.
When teenagers suffer from menstrual cramps, they possibly do not feel like socializing, visiting their gym class or even taking part in their routine activities. As social contact keeps majority of the teenagers healthy, experiencing menstrual camps for a couple of days may prove to be very difficult for them.
It is advisable that adolescents experiencing acute pain at the time of their menstrual period ought to visit their healthcare provider and seek advice. In fact, an acute pain in the abdomen may also be an indication of ectopic pregnancy (a fertilized egg developing outside the uterus), ovarian cyst, fibroid cyst, endometriosis (endometrium present in areas other than the uterine lining), endometrial cancer, or pelvic adhesions. Therefore, it is essential for them to undergo a medical diagnosis.
Any teenager experiencing irregular menstrual cycles again and again - an alteration in the usual pattern of her menstrual cycle, or abnormal loss of blood, should also visit a physician. In fact, erratic or altering menstrual cycles may also be a sign of some problems related to the endocrine gland. It may be noted here that if the bleeding continues for a prolonged period or is in excess, it may possibly result in anemia.
In addition, you should also take your daughter to a physician in case she is taking birth control pill or has an IUD (intrauterine device) implanted and suffers from menstrual cramps. A proper diagnosis is essential to ascertain that the symptoms are not related to any other serious condition.
Supplements and herbs
Use of specific herbs and supplements has been found to be effective in relieving menstrual cramps. Some of these are discussed briefly below:
- Calcium/ magnesium chloride
- Either of these is a wonderful supplement that aids in providing relief from muscle spasms and menstrual cramps and, at the same time, they are useful for maintaining an excellent muscle tone. While using calcium and/ or magnesium can help in lessening soreness of the breasts, magnesium helps the body to absorb augmented amounts of calcium. In fact, a number of suffering women have discovered that when they chew calcium supplements during menstrual periods it helps in restricting the pain.
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin E is excellent for sustaining the health and ensuring normal functioning of the reproductive organs.
- Vitamin B complex
- Vitamin B complex is an excellent supplement that is helpful in lessening the tension that occurs during the premenstrual stage. It is interesting to note that a number of women who took brewer’s yeast during their menstrual period have reported that this supplement has been effective in diminishing the relentless uneasiness during menstrual periods, counting depressions. Findings of a number of studies have hinted that women may experience vitamin B6 deficiency during their menstrual periods.
- Vitamin C in conjunction with bioflavonoid
- When used in conjunction, vitamin C and bioflavonoids aid in making the blood vessels as well as the walls of the capillaries inside the uterus stronger.
- Women experiencing profuse blood loss during their menstrual periods ought to ensure that they also do not suffer from a dearth of iron in their body.
- This herb works to relax the body. Prepare a tea with chamomile and drink one cup of it whenever necessary.
- Dong quai
- This is a Chinese herb that aids in controlling the menstrual cycle by means of maintaining equilibrium among the female hormones. Taking dong quai for some months will prove to be useful in providing relief from menstrual cramps, especially when it is used together with the leaves of red raspberry. It is best to start taking about 40 drops of tincture prepared from the herb or a formula prepared using both dong quai and leaf of red raspberry two times every day beginning from the sixth day to the 20th day of the menstrual cycle (the days are determined on the basis of the first day when the menstrual bleeding starts). It is advisable that women should take 40 drops of either of these formulas twice every day continuously for three weeks. In case a woman is experiencing erratic menstrual periods, she should take dong quai for roughly 2 to 3 weeks every month and do this again for no less than 3 menstrual cycles. However, this herb should not be taken during the menstrual period.
- Ginger tea
- Placing a compress dipped in boiling ginger tea on the lower region of the abdomen facilitates the cramping muscles to unwind. To prepare the ginger tea, add 6 oz of freshly obtained ginger root to one quart water and boil it for about 20 minutes. Douse a hand towel or washcloth in the hot tea and place the soaked cloth either on the abdomen directly or cover the drenched cloth using a dry cloth and then place it on the abdomen. Ginger works to warm up and augments blood circulation in the lower abdominal region. When you apply this compress, you will have a feeling as if you have had a meaningful heating massage.
- True cramp bark
- Although most people are not familiar with cramp bark, it has the aptitude to heal menstrual cramps effectively. Ideally, you should drink one cup of tea prepared with this herb two times every day for three consecutive days prior to the beginning of the menstrual period. Continue taking one cup of this herbal tea thrice every day even during the menstrual period provided you experience cramping.
- Herbal bath
- Prepare a comforting herbal bath by blending one quart of potent chamomile tea, one quart ginger tea and some amount of warm to boiling bath water. Immerse yourself in the bath tub full of this medicated water to take delight in a leisurely bath.
- Blue cohosh
- This herb possesses anti-spasmodic properties, besides containing steroids. The Native Indian women in North America have been traditionally using blue cohosh to alleviate menstrual cramps.
- Black cohosh
- Black cohosh is useful for treating several problems related to the uterus.
- Black haw
- Black haw is an anti-spasmodic herb that is particularly effective for treating spasms of the uterus.
- Pasque flower
- Pasque flower is an excellent herb for alleviating all types of pain, counting uterine pain.
Additional things you may do
In addition to using conventional drugs and supplements and herbs, a woman can do some more things to avoid menstruation cramping. Most importantly, they should make an effort not to become obese or overweight, as overweight women normally experience additional menstrual cramps.
At the same time, it is important to undertake exercises on a regular basis. It has been found that menstrual cramps occur less frequently and are less severe in the case of healthy and fit women.
Women should also ensure that they take any high-quality vitamin as well as mineral supplements throughout the month. They need increase the amount of magnesium and calcium taken by them just before the onset of their menstrual periods.
Other beneficial herbs
- From Ashley - Jan-05-2011
- I found this tea called "Breathe Deep" by Yogi, I use it when I am feeling congested but I looked at the label and realized that it had a lot of supplements in it that are good for cramps such as peppermint, ginger, cinnamon and basil. I drank one cup and within a few minutes I felt so much better!! I think you have to drink a few cups a day depending on the pain, but it works way faster and is a lot healthier than popping pills!
- From TMari - 2010
- When I was experiencing unusually painful cramps a few months ago a friend dropped off a small bag of dried herbs to use. 1Tbsp Cramp Bark , 1Tbsp Black Haw , pinch of Licorice Root . Place herbs in saucepan with 5 cups of water and bring to boil. Turn down and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain and enjoy - kicks in quicker than any pill (20 minutes). This tea can be made ahead and stored in refrigerator - just warm up.
- From Karli - 2010
- I started taking chamomile tea & raspberry leaf supplements because I was getting cramps & nausea so badly I was missing a day of school every month. Within a month of taking raspberry leaf every day - no more cramps! I stuck with the raspberry leaf & chamomile for several years, and now I rarely, if ever, need the herbs or hardcore drugs for the cramps.... Thank you, Mother Nature!
- From Tabitha - 2010
- I tried vitamin C for menstrual cramps...wow, what a relief. I have pcos, endometriosis, and have suffered with pain for many years. I had almost given up hope until I did some researching today. Thank goodness I found this. Just wish I would have found it sooner.
- From Kelli - 2010
- Only Ibuprofen and heat packs helps somewhat of my severe menstrual cramps. Other than that nothing helps me sadly.
- From Tonya - 2010
- I use to suffer from bad cramps but I have been taking multivitamins, especially days leading up to my period. Now I can't feel a thing while its on. I even forget that I am on because it feels like I am not even on. Forget pain killers! Take your vitamins!
- From Michelle - 2010
- I've suffered from severe menstrual cramps since I was a teenager. My mom has had to pick me up from school due to the severity of menstrual cramps. Only in the last couple of years I have stopped experiencing cramps. I heard a doctor speaking on the radio of Calcium/Magnesium. She also mentioned not getting the supplement from local drug stores because of impurities. Instead, you should get it from an all natural/organic supermarket.
I took the advice and I've been cramp free for 2+ years. I'm 37 years old and I figured it's better late than never to finally get that relief. I'm so thankful and to this day I don't know that doctor's name. If I did, I'd write her the longest thank you letter.