Not every woman or girl gets lucky (WHAT? LUCKY?) and has a normal, 4-7 day period with sluggishness, aches, and minimal cramping. Some get a 4-7 day period with hot flashes and severe cramping to the point of passing out. That type of painful period is called Dysmenorrhea, or even worse, Severe Dysmenorrhea.
There are several conditions that can contribute to abnormal, debilitating menstrual cramps, but the most common is Endometriosis. The Mayo Clinic says:
Endometriosis (en-doe-me-tree-O-sis) is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, Fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond pelvic organs.
With endometriosis, displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would — it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because this displaced tissue has no way to exit your body, it becomes trapped. When endometriosis involves the ovaries, cysts called endometriomas may form. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, eventually developing scar tissue and adhesions — abnormal bands of fibrous tissue that can cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other.
Stop Having a Period, Safely
With Endometriosis, surgery to remove the endometrial tissue can be required, but it may return later. Because of this, gynecologists have a trick up their sleeve that can even help painful periods if you don’t have Endometriosis: Skip your period.
For real! This method is the reason why some women who aren’t sexually active are on birth control. You continue taking birth control pills through the usual placebo week. Toss out the placebo/sugar pills and start a new pack right away, which means you never stop receiving the actual medicine.
There are variations. Some doctors say don’t have a period for 3 months, which gives you 3 months free from pain. At the end of 3 months, you take the one week of placebo pills. Then you have your period. Other ladies are advised to go for 6 months straight.
This usually has to be fine-tuned, based on body chemistry and your response to the “no period” periods. For example, you may have planned on skipping 3 months of periods, but your body started to have frequent spotting in the second month, which becomes heavier. This might tell your doc that you really should have a period every 2 months. In extreme cases, doctors prescribe non-stop birth control pills with the intent of preventing a period altogether. In most cases, the body forces a period to happen – but the time between them could be very long.
NOTE: You should not try this on your own without a doctor’s supervision. Instead, use this information to start a discussion with your gyno. Ask if you can try it. Doctors actually love when their patients are informed and bring in ideas or questions. Sometimes the idea leads to treatment and a faster cure.
Tips to Feel Better During Painful Periods
There are a number of things that can help minimize the discomfort from having a period. Give these a try.
1. Get checked out. Make sure nothing serious is causing this. Sometimes a painful period can be a symptom of something more serious like ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have regarding this. If you don’t have health insurance or can’t afford to see a doctor, consider finding your local Planned Parenthood, which has reasonable fees. They can also discount the amount you pay based on your income or situation.
2. Painkillers. This next one will be affirmed by any local pharmacist. A medication called Naprosyn used to be prescription-only and was commonly prescribed for bad menstrual cramps and pain. It came in 500mg tablets and was taken twice daily, with food. Its active ingredient has since been made over-the-counter. It’s called Naproxen Sodium under the brand Aleve and store brands. The difference is in pill strength and dosing instructions. OTC naproxen comes in 220mg tablets to be taken up to twice per day. Double that to get 440mg twice per day, and you are just under the old prescription strength – minus the doctor’s visit and higher price. Another standby is Ibuprofen, which has a similar prescription-strength shortcut. Doctors prescribed 800mg ibuprofen tablets 4 times per day, with food. OTC ibuprofen comes in 200mg tablets and is labeled for up to 6 pills per day. To receive the prescription-strength dose, take 4 OTC tablets up to 4 times per day.
Note: Be sure not to exceed these amounts. An overdose of Naproxen or Ibuprofen can result in damage to the stomach or intestines, meaning more pain :-(.
When over-the-counter medication doesn’t help, ask your gynecologist about prescribing something stronger just for that week. I personally take Vicodin the first three days of my period. Those days are the worst for me.
3. Water. Drink lots of water. Having a period takes a lot out of your body, in the form of blood and other fluids which are based on water. When the rest of your body isn’t able to use that water for normal functions, that’s when the headaches, fatigue and other symptoms occur. Keep it replenished and you’ll be ahead of the game.
4. Eat well. Try to eat well. Those fluids leaving your body contain nutrients. Adding some extra nutritious food puts your body in a better position to handle the pain. Of course, chocolate and salty treat desires may be inevitable. For healthier fare, choose nuts over potato chips and dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Otherwise, moderate and feel better! When you eat chocolate, your body produces chemical signals that resemble those of opioids.
5. Heating pads. For some, heat is a godsend. Get a heating pad that you can plug in. Don’t get patches, as they don’t penetrate as well or provide enough coverage. Place the heating pad over the most painful area for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off.
6. Exercise. Light exercise alleviates menstrual cramping and moderate pain. A light bike ride or yoga will be enough – nothing too strenuous. Similar to chocolate, exercising releases chemicals that mimic those of narcotic painkillers. It also provides a distraction, taking your mind off the discomfort and burning calories at the same time. #winning
A percentage of ladies finds intense exercise relieves their painful periods. Exercising at your normal pace may not be good for you. We suggest light exercise because with severe cramping, lightheadedness and passing out can occur. However, it differs with each person. Do what you’re comfortable with. You know your body.
7. Take naps. Your body does a better job of healing itself when it’s at rest. You have an excuse to sleep in or take short power naps to regain your energy. Pain really can drain you.
Add a feel-good movie or TV show binge to any of the above! What are some things you do during that time of the month? Comment below with what helps you!