Menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea are common among women in their reproductive years. In most cases there is no underlying health problem, and symptoms often ease after the 2nd or 3rd day of menstruation, after pregnancy or with the use of oral contraceptives. While Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition occurring in some women 7 to 10 days before the onset of the menstrual flow. The symptoms include those of dysmenorrhea.
Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps:
- Pain in the hips, lower back, and inner thighs
- Upset stomach, sometimes with vomiting
- Bloating, loose stools, constipation, breast tenderness, and headache
Causes of Menstrual Cramps:
- Menstrual pain is caused by prostaglandins, hormone-like substances produced by the lining of the uterus. They cause inflammation, uterine contractions, and increased sensitivity of nerve endings to pain.
- Another cause is hormonal imbalance which occurs due to the excessive level of estrogen in comparison to the progesterone level, in addition to a decrease of blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
How to Prevent Menstrual Cramps:
- Eat foods rich in iron like beef and liver before your period.
- Increase your fiber intake, constipation is often the cause of discomfort during menstruation, therefore increasing your fiber intake is important.
- Drinking plenty of water, especially a glass or two of warm water first thing in the morning will also help against constipation.
- Increase your intake of calcium and magnesium rich foods, like milk, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, and nuts. Taking 1,000 mg calcium/500mg magnesium once daily is also recommended. These minerals help relax the muscle tissues therefore relieving cramps.
- Vitamin E may also help in alleviating menstrual cramps. Studies have shown that 500 IU of vitamin E taken daily during the menstrual period can significantly reduce dysmenorrhea.
- Studies found that evening primrose oil, a rich source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), relieves PMS and other pain without harmful side effects.
- Some women find sipping herbal tea beneficial. (Mint, chamomile and raspberry teas are often recommended.)
- Placing a warm bottle or a heating pad over the abdomen or on your lower back can relieve muscle cramps and tension.
- Rub your abdomen and your back with warm lotion. This will help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Reduce your consumption of salt, sugar, caffeine, fats and refined foods during the week before your period to prevent cramps or reduce their severity. Highly salted foods promote fluid retention and bloating.
- Exercise regularly. According to a number of surveys, women who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from menstrual cramps. The reason may be related to the levels of endorphins, which are released at an increased rate during exercise. Endorphins (chemicals in the brain that are natural mood elevators) can increase the sense of well-being and help the body to deal with stress. Especially beneficial are stretching and yoga exercises.
- Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep allows your body to run smoothly and efficiently. Many hormone functions are produced during sleep.