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Painful periods

With the dawn of each new period come the cramps. Those dull, sometimes throbbing pains that plague your lower abdomen. Most women experience menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, at some point in their lives. For some, it’s little more than a nuisance. For others, it can be painful enough to interfere with daily routine, causing missed work or school.

Painful periods usually aren’t serious, and the intensity tends to decrease as you get older—often disappearing after pregnancy. But for now, try these self-help measures to take the edge off:

  • Take a pain reliever such as aspirin, acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Motrin).
  • Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower back or abdomen. You can also massage these areas using your fingertips, moving with light, circular motions.
  • Opt for a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in salt and sugar. Also, skip the cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Take a warm shower or bath or drink warm beverages.
  • Exercise or walk regularly to release endorphins, your body’s built-in painkillers.
  • Get enough rest so your body will be less susceptible to pain.
  • Relax your muscles with alternative pain relievers such as meditation or yoga. Some women also find acupuncture helps to relieve pain.
  • Keep your legs elevated when lying down. Or lie on your side with your knees bent.

If you find these measures don’t help your pain, talk with your healthcare provider. He or she may recommend low-dose hormones, which prevent ovulation and may reduce the production of prostaglandins—hormones that cause contractions in the uterus. Anti-inflammatory medications, antidepressants, antibiotics or stronger pain relievers may also help.

In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend testing to be certain your cramps aren’t caused by other factors such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids or ovarian cysts.