Painful Menstrual Cramps – Western Medicine and Eastern Medicine

First of all, we all know someone that suffers from painful menstruation. That person may be your self or someone close to you. Most people want the painful monthly annoyance to simply stop. That is completely fair and justified. Menstrual cramps can be awful and exhausting! I usually want women to understand why they are experiencing pain during their menstrual cycle. 

Why do women have pain during menstruation?

There can be a variety of reasons as to why women experience pain during their menstrual cycle. In Western medicine, the diagnosis is Primary dysmenorrhea. This is defined as a period/ menstrual pain that is not caused by another condition.  The cause is usually due to prostaglandins, which are chemicals that the uterus makes. This release of prostaglandins is making the muscles in the uterus tighten and contract and this causes cramps and therefore pain. This cramping of the uterus is what many people refer to as menstrual cramps. A woman’s uterus contracts to expel lining monthly during one’s menstruation. Severe cramps can occur when there are higher levels of these hormone-like prostaglandins

Common Western medicine treatment for painful menstrual cramps 

At this time there are a few options from Western medicine for the treatment of painful menstrual cramps and/ or Primary dysmenorrhea. The most common options are over the counter NSAIDs like Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve. The other option you a woman has is a prescription for birth control pills.  Birth control pills (BCPs) are not a treatment for painful menstrual cramps/ Primary dysmenorrhea, however, while taking BCPs your body does not have a true menstruation period. While on BCPs a woman’s body does not shed lining monthly. The BCPs stop a woman’s body from ovulating. When taking the pill it signals the body that there are enough hormones and there is no need to make anymore. Then your ovaries get a signal to not make any more hormones. Then your body suppresses LH (luteinizing hormone). Without LH your ovaries do not get the signal to ovulate. Then no egg is released. Honestly, this is not a treatment for menstrual cramps this is simply discontinuing ovulation in order for your body to avoid painful cramping. The pill does not “fix your hormones, acne, periods, etc.” 

Should I take BCPs (“the Pill) for my painful menstrual cramps? What about side effects?

That is a very personal choice that no one else can make but you. The pill is helpful in preventing pregnancy, however, there can be acute and long term side effects.  Some of the side effects include the following: stroke, heart attack, stomach issues, thyroid disease, adrenal issues, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and nutrient deficiencies to name a few.  

Now, most doctors will not tell you any or all of these side effects. I wish doctors would inform women on possible acute and chronic side effects they can have. Unfortunately, I have to deal with the post-pill side effects in my office with new fertility and women’s health patients that come in looking for answers to their problems while on BCPs and post BCPs. If you want to read more about the side effects of BCPs you can go to Dr. Brighten’s website (read more here.) She is a physician that works with women to understand their hormones and heal their hormones holistically. Her whole website has an incredible amount of information which I find empowering. I believe that in gathering more knowledge about how our hormones work we can make the best choice for our mind, body, and soul. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine can be helpful for painful menstrual cramps 

Yes, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be incredibly helpful for painful menstrual cramps. Acupuncture can be helpful because it can often calm down the uterus contractions that are causing the pain. How can tiny little acupuncture needles lessen uterus contractions? Acupuncture can lessen the pain by increasing blood flow to the uterus and reducing inflammation. By reducing the inflammation then there can be less pain and contractions. About 95% of the time I highly recommend for a patient to take some Traditional Chinese herbs because there are several herbs that have therapeutic actions.  There are Traditional Chinese herbs that have an analgesic function to relieve pain, anti-inflammatory action, and even antispasmodic effects to relieve cramping. Another reason I highly recommend these herbs is that they do not have negative side effects on the liver like NSAIDs. Research has even shown that taking NSAIDs for as little as 10 days can inhibit ovulation (read more here.) 

What can I do for my painful menstrual cramps?

Inform your self! Make sure you make the best decisions possible for your body, hormones, and soul. Take into consideration possible side effects – both acute and long term. 

Please inform and educate your self about what you put into your body and then you can be more able to make the best-informed decision for your whole being and overall wellness. 

Please share this short blog with a woman that you know that could benefit from this information. Sharing information and knowledge always helps other women, too. 

Adrianne Ortega

Acupuncturist and Herbalist, Alma Acupuncture

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