A lot of women suffer from period pains when having a period (I hate the word menstruating – in fact, why is it that so many words associated with That Time of The Month are ugly, horrible words?) but not all suffer from dysmenorrhoea – which is a medical term used to describe painful periods that interfere with every day activities. It’s not known exactly what percentage of women suffer with this, as it often goes unreported.
I didn’t want to tell anyone that my periods were affecting my ability to carry out normal activities for a long time – at school we were taught that period pain was normal and our parents were instructed not to let us go off school with it. When I started having periods and the pain on the first day made me sick or pass out, I thought I must just be a wuss – because nobody else was doubling over in pain or curling up on the floor groaning. I felt like my entire mid section was on fire and I couldn’t function or even concentrate. I would take a couple of ibuprofen and hope the pain would go away soon, and usually it eased enough for me to get to the end of the day and get home and wait it out.
As I’ve got older, the pain has got worse, because unfortunately it does – especially if you haven’t had children. Nowadays, two Ibuprofen isn’t enough and whatever it is that I’m doing in the first 24-48 hours of my period gets disrupted or cancelled altogether. It’s not because of any underlying medical condition – although dysmenorrhoea can occur secondary to endometriosis, fibroids or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (so see your GP to rule these things out), it’s just the way my body is. I’ve experimented with many hints, tips and tricks given to me by friends, family and medical professionals over the years, as well as some I’ve just developed on my own through learning what helps my body. Here are some of them; see what works for you. It might be one, or a combination of several.
A hot bath or a hot water bottle can ease cramps and relax your body. Apply the heat to your tummy area and make sure the water isn’t boiling so you don’t scald yourself. It’s not for everyone and doesn’t work for me, but I know a lot of people who have found a lot of relief in a little bit of heat in the right areas. If you are someone who experiences pain more in your lower back area during your period, apply the heat here instead.
They say that light exercise can ease period pains. Again, this has never worked for me but getting active can relax the body and this can help to reduce pain. Try walking, swimming or something that involves stretching, like yoga.
I didn’t know this until I started working in healthcare and neither did a surprising amount of my patients – you can take ibuprofen and paracetamol together. Ibuprofen works by reducing inflammation and paracetamol blocks responses in the body to pain or injury, thus making you less aware of it. You shouldn’t take either of these medications more frequently than every four hours and keeping yourself ‘topped up’ by alternating doses of ibuprofen and paracetamol every two hours can be really effective at keeping cramps under control. Things to watch out for: don’t overdose. Read the leaflet. Also, ibuprofen can make you feel sick, which isn’t helpful if, like me, you already get sick at that charming time of the month.
You can buy co-codamol over the counter in lower doses but if things get really bad, see your GP and get prescribed some stronger pain relief. I have to admit that codeine works wonders for me, but everyone is different. Check you aren’t allergic to any of the ingredients in ANY pain medication you take.
This ties in with exercise above and is something I do in conjunction with yoga. The idea is to relax your body and distract your mind away from the pain. It’s really difficult as actually, the mental effects of prolonged pain can be as awful as the physical symptoms. Sometimes I just need to stop myself thinking ‘when is this going to END?’ and that’s where meditation comes in. Have a read of this and see what you think, or try Ekhart Yoga meditation videos on YouTube.
Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
I got bought a TENS machine last month and it was like a godsend. It reduced my pain to a bearable level and as a result I didn’t feel dizzy, faint or sick and everything was much more manageable. I got everything done that I had been planning to do that day and everything was much better because of it. It works by releasing small electrical impulses that block pain to nerves in your pelvic area. It’s not just used for period pains – you can use it for any kind of chronic muscular pain. The impulses are released via sticky pads which attach to the affected area of your body. It feels a little like hot needles at high frequencies, and for it makes a really positive difference. You can get them from most pharmacies.
Try these things, even if you’ve previously turned your nose up at them. Combine two or more of these techniques, add some comfort food and see what happens.
For more facts about Dysmenorrhoea, check the NHS Choices website.
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