Menstruation is a normal biological process that every lady experiences between puberty and menopause. Menstruation is a monthly process, which is also referred to as “period”. It is the process in which blood is discharged from the uterus of a non-pregnant woman.
It is not uncommon for many women to feel mild pain during their periods. While this may be a common experience for some ladies, it may, however, be the sign of something serious, especially if the pain refuses to subside after taking some analgesics. When this happens, it is most likely that the lady has menstrual cramp or painful periods.
In this article, we shall be considering some effective home remedies for menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding.
What are menstrual cramps?
Menstrual cramp, which is also known medically as dysmenorrhea, is a condition that affects women during their monthly periods. Dysmenorrhea occurs when the muscles of the uterus contract and relax to remove blood during menstruation.
Menstrual cramps are mainly characterized by painful or difficult periods. The cramping pains are usually felt in the lower belly region, and can occur before or during a woman’s period. In addition, the severity of the pain varies; it can be a mild dull pain, or a sharp intense pain.
Types of menstrual cramp
There are two main types of menstrual cramp: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorreha.
- Primary dysmenorrhea: There is a high chance that any lady having recurring painful periods has primary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is a type of painful menstruation that is not caused by some other medical problem. This type of menstrual pain is marked by cramps in the lower part of the abdomen, and usually begin some days (1 or 2 days) prior to the start of the person’s period. Primary dysmenorrhea can last for up to 4 days after the outset. It is also common for this of dysmenorrhea to affect a woman recurrently.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea: This is a less common form of menstrual cramp. Secondary dysmenorrhea often occurs as one of the complications of another medical condition, like endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition whereby endometrium is found in places other than the walls of the uterus, leading to dysmenorrheal. The endometrium is a mucous membrane (a tissue) found on the walls of the uterus (womb), which is usually shed during menstruation or, in the case of a pregnancy, during childbirth. Other conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrheal include fibroid, necrotizing vasculitis, adenomyosis, and PID (pelvic inflammatory disease).
Causes of menstrual cramps
Menstrual cramps or painful menstruation can be caused by any of the following;
- Irregular menstruation or menorrhagia
- PID (pelvic inflammatory disease)
- Necrotizing vasculitis
- Having your first child
- Narrow cervix
- Ovarian cyst
- PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- Ectopic pregnancy
Risk factors for menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding
Besides the above-listed causes, several factors can also increase the risk of menstrual cramps. Some of these risk factors are:
- Infertility: If a woman is infertile or is incapable of conception, the chances of developing menstrual cramps are high. In addition, a woman who has never given birth is more likely to suffer from the condition than someone who has given birth.
- Age: Women who are below 20 years of age are at a higher risk of getting dysmenorrhea than those above 20. Further, a recent study also found that women younger than 25 years of age are at a higher risk (more than twice) of experiencing the condition than women aged between 25 and 34.
- Early pubescence: A lady who starts her puberty very early (at 11 years of age or before that) is also at a risk of experiencing dysmenorrheal.
- Obesity or being overweight: Besides causing other health problems, being overweight also makes it easy for a woman to experience painful menstruation. This is because overweight women have extra fat cells in the body which are converted into a form of estrogen, known as estrone, which adds to the endometrium content of the uterus. When there is an accumulation of endometrium in the uterine walls without ovulation, there is a great chance of experiencing heavy bleeding when the ovulation happens.
- Smoking and alcohol intake: Various studies have shown that cigarette smoking and excess intake of alcohol contribute to menstrual cramps in women. In one of such studies, it was reported that female smokers are at a higher risk of getting dysmenorrheal than non-smokers.
- Overproduction or hypersensitivity to prostaglandin: Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances in a woman’s body that are responsible for the contraction and relaxing of the uterine walls during discharge. High levels of these chemicals can lead to intense contractions of the uterus, and consequently, more pain. Women whose bodies produce high amounts of prostaglandins, as well as those whose bodies are highly sensitive to the substance, are more likely to experience menstrual cramps.
- Menorrhagia: Menorraghia or hypermenorrhea is a condition of prolonged or irregular menstruation. According to a recent study, heavy menstruation or irregular menstruation is a risk factor for menstrual cramps.
Symptoms of menstrual cramps
Symptoms of menstrual cramps include, but are not limited to the following:
- Dull or sharp pain in the lower abdomen and lower back
- Nausea and vomiting
Home remedies for menstrual cramps
Menstrual cramps can be treated via several methods including surgery to cure the underlying medical condition in the case of secondary dysmenorrhea. The following are some remedial measures for menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding which can be performed at home:
- Drink chamomile tea: Sipping some chamomile tea is one of the simplest home remedies for menstrual cramps. The tea of the chamomile plant helps to reduce muscular contractions by increasing the amount of glycine – a type of amino acid – in the urine. In addition, chamomile tea helps to suppress prostaglandin production, according to a study. Other types of tea that can be taken for this purpose include black pepper tea and green tea.
- Birth control medications: Hormonal birth control medications like oral contraceptives and IUDs (intra-uterine devices) can also help in reducing menstrual irregularities, including heavy bleeding and cramping. These remedies work by regulating hormones in a woman’s body which in turn are responsible for reducing the uterine lining – endometrium.
- Take over-the-counter medication: Severe dysmenorrhea can be treated by taking over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). NSAIDs like ibuprofen or diclofenac should be taken some days before the menstruation begins, usually 1 to 2 days before. Over-the-counter NSAIDs work by blocking the effects of prostaglandins in the body. It is important to note, however, that NSAIDs should not be taken by persons who are allergic to such medications and those who have stomach problems.
- Warm bath: Soaking in a warm bath is another home remedy for menstrual cramps.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a method of treatment from Traditional Chinese medicine, which involves the insertion of needles at specific points of the body. Women suffering from dysmenorrhea can benefit from acupuncture as it has been proven effective in relieving pain.
- Heat: You can apply a heating pad or pack on your abdomen when you are experiencing menstrual cramps and its associated symptoms. A word of caution though: ensure that the heating pack is not too hot as it can cause skin burn.
- Cumin seeds: Cumin seeds have anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties that are beneficial in the treatment of menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding. The seeds can be processed for tea and drunk to reduce the cramping.
- Fenugreek seeds: Women suffering from primary dysmenorrhea can benefit from fenugreek seeds due to the fact that the seeds aid in weight reduction. Besides, fenugreek seeds have been found to help the functioning of the liver and kidneys. To reap the benefits of fenugreek seeds, soak a handful of the seeds in a cup of water for about 12 hours, and then drink up.
- Epsom salt: Soaking in an Epsom salt bath is an effective home remedy for menstrual cramps. This is because Epsom salt is rich in magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral in the body that helps in regulating muscular contractions. Magnesium also helps in relieving pain and in reducing systemic inflammations. So, a deficiency in this essential mineral can make the cramping worse.
- Ginger: Ginger is a wonderful herbal plant that finds application in the treatment of various medical problems. In the case of dysmenorrhea, ginger’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties are very effective. A university study found that taking 250mg of ginger powder four times each day for a three-day period is helpful in relieving pain. The anti-dysmenorrhea properties of ginger can be savored by grating some ginger roots and placing in a cup of hot water, and then drinking up.
- Exercise: While this may sound counterintuitive, because you may think: “Why should I start exercise when I’m in pains and can barely move?” But, exercise can actually help you if you have dysmenorrhea. This is because during exercise, blood circulation is improved and endorphins are released to combat the effects of prostaglandins. Simple exercises like walking can bring about a difference to your painful situation.
- Practice yoga: Like normal exercise, performing yoga poses can also help to improve menstrual cramps. A not-so-recent study conducted on women aged between 18 and 22 found that three yoga poses – cat, cobra and fish – helped in relieving menstrual pain in the women.
- Drink aloe vera juice: Aloe vera juice has natural healing and pain-relieving properties. Aside from these, drinking aloe vera juice also helps to improve blood flow, which is beneficial for reducing the severity of cramps.
- Massage with essential oils: Massaging the lower abdomen region with essential oils is another home remedy for menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding. A 2010 study showed that women who had secondary dysmenorrheal caused by endometriosis experienced relief immediately after a massage. Examples of essential oils are eucalyptus essential oil, lavender essential oil, peppermint oil, and sesame oil. It is noteworthy to state that essential oils are to be diluted with carrier oils before application. Examples of carrier oils are olive oil, coconut oil, and almond oil.
- Fish oil: Fish oil is rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are helpful in reducing pain, as well as being highly beneficial to overall body health. You can also complement the effects of fish oil by taking vitamin B1. A 2014 study involving 240 teenagers experiencing menstrual cramps showed that taking vitamin B1, or fish oil, or both can help in relieving pain associated with menstruation.
- Drink more water: This is another simple way of reducing the symptoms of menstrual cramping, and heavy bleeding. Drinking more water (especially hot water) helps this way by promoting blood flow and urination. Symptoms of dysmenorrhea, such as bloating, are caused when the body retains water, and can be corrected by drinking plenty water.
How to prevent menstrual cramps
Women who regularly experience menstrual cramps can try any of the following methods to reduce the risk of the condition:
- De-stressing: Stress is one of the major causes or triggers of menstrual cramps; hence, reducing stress is an effective way of preventing the condition. There are various ways of reducing stress in the body, including regular exercising and yoga. Aside from these, a simple way of reducing stress is by reducing stressful activities in your life.
- Avoid smoking: Beyond acting as a remedy for menstrual cramps, quitting smoking is another preventive measure. Cigarette smoking does a lot of harm to the body; therefore, reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke or completely quitting is a simple method of preventing dysmenorrhea.
- Limit alcohol intake: Like cigarette, like alcohol, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink is another helpful prevention measure for women prone to dysmenorrhea. Excessive consumption of alcohol is a contributor to stress in the body, so, reducing alcohol intake also helps to reduce stress.
- Reduce intake of salt and fat: Too much intake of salt and fat is unhealthy for the body. cutting down on these or avoiding them totally is a good way of preventing menstrual cramps in women.
- Shed off the extra weight: We already mentioned that obesity is a risk factor for menstrual cramps, thence, maintaining a healthy body weight is important if you want to prevent the condition.
- Eating fruits and vegetables: Based on a research finding, eating more fruits and vegetables will help to reduce the risk of dysmenorrheal in women.