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Dealing with Severe Menstrual Cramps

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/10/2010

What can be done about severe menstrual cramps? Learn about the many available solutions, from natural remedies to prescribed medications.

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    painful cramps Painful cramps are a common symptom of menstruation. Severe menstrual cramps with pain so great that doing everyday activities becomes impossible is not normal. A women who experiences extremely intense cramps is suffering from dysmenorrhea, a condition that can be treated.

    Dysmenorrhea is believed to be caused by the hormone prostaglandin, and can be aggravated by stress. It can also be a symptom of a more serious medical condition, such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts or a sexually transmitted disease. A visit to the doctor's office is a good idea, especially when this condition only occurs after menstrual cramps have been minimal or non-existent through years of menstruation. You can still try natural, home-based remedies to try and improve the condition or you can take a prescription medication recommended by your doctor.

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    Natural Solutions

    How can very painful periods be treated without drugs? Simple techniques to reduce stress, increase circulation and improve well-being can make a difference. There are also herbal remedies for dysmenorrhea. To deal with the pain when it occurs, try placing a heating pad on your lower abdomen or taking a warm shower to increase blood flow. You can also do a light massage to the area by moving your fingertips in a circular motion. Lie one your back and then pull your knees to your chest, taking deep breaths. You can also lie on your side with knees bent.

    An herbal infusion made from herbs to relax the contractions of the uterus as well as the nervous system can be taken as well. To make a tea to sooth the pain of dysmenorrhea, use two teaspoons total of dried herb. Steep in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Drink up to three cups a day. The following herbs are useful:

    • Cramp bark is ideal for this condition, specifically relaxing the spasms of the uterus. It also has emmenagogue properties and is beneficial for excessive bleeding during menstruation. Cramp bark also relaxes the nervous system.
    • Pasque flower is a soothing nervine that is most effective at relieving tension and muscle spasms of the reproductive system. This herb is safe, but do not use the fresh flowers, only the dried herb. It works very well when combined with cramp bark.
    • Wild yam is another excellent herb to ease the pain of dysmenorrhea.
    • Black haw is effective for relaxing the uterus. Also as a nervine and sedative it helps to reduce the tension, further easing the pain.
    • Valerian is a very relaxing nervine. As an anti-spasmodic it will also help to relieve cramps. It is most effective when combined with cramp bark or black haw. As valerian is extremely calming only use when you can simply relax.

    It is also possible to prevent very painful menstrual cramps. Make sure you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Supplement with a good multi-vitamin to make sure you are getting enough nutrition, with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 being particularly important. Exercise regularly. A thirty minute walk five days a week can be helpful. Joining a yoga class can help to improve physical well-being while also reducing stress.

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    Drug Therapy

    There are a number of different prescription medications that your doctor may suggest to treat dysmenorrhea. Birth control pills may help to regulate hormones during the menstrual cycle. Prescription drugs such as codeine or other narcotics can be used to treat the pain. Antidepressants can also be prescribed to address the stress and anxiety, which may be a cause of the painful periods.

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    Seeing a Doctor

    In many cases severe menstrual cramps can be relieved with home methods within two or three months. If they do not subside and you haven't seen your doctor already it is time to make an appointment. Also, keep in mind there could be other more serious causes of dysmenorrhea other than hormonal changes. If you have a fever, if the pain occurs several days before or after your period, or if there are any other symptoms accompanying the pain, then it is very important to seek professional medical care.

    Excessively painful periods can be very difficult to deal with. Keep in mind that one way or another, they can be treated. Whether you choose diet and exercise, nutrition and herbs, or drug therapy, you don't have to go though debilitating pain every month anymore.

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    University of Maryland Medical Center <>

    Hoffmann, David. "The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies." (Element Books, 1996).

    photo by CC/flickr <>