Dealing with painful periods

Many things, including stress, being over or underweight, medication, childbirth, or certain illnesses affect a woman’s monthly period. Women must therefore be prepared to deal with fluctuations that accompany the

  • PublishedAugust 2, 2011

Many things, including stress, being over or underweight, medication, childbirth, or certain illnesses affect a woman’s monthly period. Women must therefore be prepared to deal with fluctuations that accompany the monthly cycle

Do you suffer each month from the turbulent emotions of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) followed by heavy and painful periods? Does this make you hate that time of month and curse why you were born a woman? Do you wonder whether it will get better or worse as you grow older? With an average of 500 cycles per lifetime, and as a woman who suffers painful periods, you are likely to be out looking for a cure or a way to cope with this depressing condition. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to periods, as they are extremely individual. When teenage girls start their periods, some of them may have egg-less cycles and heavy bleeding accompanied by painful cramps. This is usually due to a temporary hormone imbalance, which eventually settles down.

The menstrual cycle may also be erratic for two or three years leading up to the menopause, again due to hormonal fluctuations – in this case, declining levels of oestrogen and progesterone. During a woman’s reproductive years, the length of her cycle may change from the average 28 days to 21 or 32 days, and, as menopause approaches, there could be three to four months between periods before they cease altogether. Some lucky women experience no period problems at all and others crossover to menopause without any eventful moments.

Lifestyle may affect periods


The 20s and 30s are likely to be the most stable time for a woman’s periods, but they can be affected by stress, weight gain or loss, medication, pregnancy and childbirth at any time. Stress can make hormones go haywire; so do not panic if you have a short cycle or one or two abnormal cycles. Instead, deal with the stressors in your life.

Weight gain can also make one prone to heavier periods and PMS, while losing too much weight can shut down the monthly system. The hypothalamus (an area in the brain that releases hormones) decides to save energy for other life-support systems, like the heart, when one is too skinny and her body weight is below normal. Often, women suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia do not get periods as their reproductive system shuts down. This is dangerous.

On the other hand, menstrual cramps can become less painful after childbirth, as the process of giving birth widens the cervical opening, making it easier to pass clots of blood. Medication can also affect periods. Antidepressants can make periods more painful, while steroids taken for rheumatoid arthritis can make periods stop. If medication affects one’s menstrual cycle, a doctor should be consulted for advise on whether to change or try a lower dosage.

PMS can increase during times of hormonal turbulence, such as puberty, changes in contraception, miscarriage, pregnancy termination and childbirth. PMS is an individual thing; although women aged 30 to 45 are more likely to have the most severe PMS. It is not known why, but it could be because our lives get more stressful as we grow older.

There should be no cause to panic when a cycle becomes irregular, heavier, lighter or absent, as this is often a temporary condition. However, a sudden onset of pain could indicate the existence of more serious conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids or uterine infection. It is important to know your body, as this way you are able to determine the ‘abnormal’ from the ‘normal’. If the pain means you cannot carry on with your life as normal, and painkillers are not working, get checked out, as there are many things a doctor can do to ease your pain.

You should not feel you have to surrender to a week of misery every month. There are many things you can do to ease the pain and lead as normal a life as possible during your periods. You can ease period symptoms by dealing with your diet, regular exercising and trying to reduce your stress levels as much as possible. If you lead a healthy lifestyle, chances are your periods will not be too destructive to your life.

Tips to help relieve menstrual pain

*If you have significant pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can reduce it together with accompanying blood loss by about 30 per cent. If you know when your period is going to kick in, start taking them the day before.

*Research shows than taking 200 IU of vitamin E twice a day can reduce pain and bleeding. It is said to work by reducing prostaglandins, and can be taken safely with painkillers.

*A contraceptive coil, which contains progesterone, is sometimes prescribed to reduce blood loss. It keeps the womb lining thin, so periods are lighter and less painful. *During a heavy flow, drink lots of liquids to keep your blood volume normal.

*Exercise can reduce cramps as it decreases the body’s oestrogen production.

*Learn to manage stress. This will lead to regular ovulation and sufficient progesterone, hence making periods light.

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