(How to help manage painful periods)
By Diane Dunniway, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC
It is a new school year with the promise of more open social activities, sports, and perhaps a part-time job for your teen daughter. However, she’s awake through the night with painful menstrual cramps, so how will she
have the energy to make it through the day? As a parent, you know how much she already missed due to COVID shelter-in-place last year. Here I will outline some simple steps so her painful periods do NOT have to cramp her style any more. (And although I am writing this for moms of teen girls, anyone with menstrual cramps can utilize the information provided. Maybe it is YOUR style that is “cramped?”)
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for menstrual pain. It is estimated that up to 90% of women will experience it in their lives (1). Yet a woman’s body is amazing and there IS a purpose to the madness (shedding the lining of the uterus to get ready for the next cycle). However, in the process, chemical messengers called prostaglandins cause the uterus (made up of smooth muscle tissue) to contract, resulting in the cramps that are felt. Since the lining of the uterus has been thickening and changing to a more vascular lining, the uterus is also heavier in the pelvis. Many women can feel pressure and discomfort in their low back, pelvis, and thighs just before and during their periods, as well as nausea and fatigue.
So what can be done to alleviate the pain—or at least make it more manageable?
When inflammation goes down, prostaglandins (and thus pain) go down, so an anti-inflammatory diet is the number one change that can impact her pain. Basically sugar = inflammation. The typical teen diet of pizza, soda, chips, and other processed foods contributes to inflammation and thus more pain. Making some simple changes can make a huge difference. Here are some options you could try:
Let your teen decide and take ownership of these choices. But you can support her by keeping healthy alternatives on hand at home and in the car.
Water acts as a smooth muscle relaxant, so encourage your daughter to keep a water bottle with her (glass or metal, not plastic—to avoid BPA), and encourage water throughout the day. Since caffeine constricts and dehydrates, it is also important to avoid caffeine! Maybe she would be willing to try a naturally decaffeinated herbal tea instead of the latte from the local coffee shop?
A warm bath can relax muscles that are tense from pain and reduce pain. Putting Epsom salts in the water may be another way to get magnesium (especially if your daughter does not like taking pills). A heating pad can be of benefit, or another over-the-counter heat wrap product applied to the low abdomen
Destressing with low impact exercise for endorphin release can also help overall. Deep breathing, prayer, meditation—some of the same things you were most likely taught to help with contractions during labor—can also help the pain during her period. When I was teaching a prenatal class about some of the breathing techniques for labor, one of our staff members who was having dysmenorrhea that same day told me afterwards that she performed it with us and it really helped her cramps. (On the positive side, when I worked Labor & Delivery, I noticed those with a history of dysmenorrhea often tolerated labor better since they would often tell me, “I have had menstrual cramps worse than these.”)
Although dysmenorrhea can be painful, it is usually not a concern if easily managed. However, there are times that call for further investigation. Here are some red flag signs to be aware of:
If you or your daughter have any of these red flag signs, seek out care at your nearest emergency room.
I know these guidelines seem almost too simple. However, I have seen them enable a young woman to go off previously prescribed narcotics and anti-nausea pills and NOT miss school or work days due to cramps. Most gynecologists will suggest starting birth control pills, but those also come with their own set of side effects.
Another benefit to this dysmenorrhea protocol is that it can ALSO help the PMS that often can precede the period as well. So increased peace and less drama may also result for your household.
DISCLAIMER: The medical advice found in this article is based on scientific studies and this doctor’s experience. Before trying at-home remedies, be sure to check with your general practitioner to make sure these remedies may be a good fit for your personal health. Neither Dr. Dunniway nor Construction Beauty Magazine guarantees positive results, nor are they responsible for any reactions that may result from trying these remedies.