Period pain can be debilitating but we’re one step closer to beating it.
A ground-breaking study in the USA has found evidence of a possible cause of severe period pain. If you’ve ever experienced the pain of menstrual cramps, chances are you have questioned how and why it hurts so much. Now, we’re one step closer to the answer and to developing effective treatments.
A recent study found a link between acute inflammation in the body and symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), including menstrual cramps. Inflammation is measurable by looking at the levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP which is a protein produced in the liver. When inflammation occurs the liver produces more CRP than usual and this is what the scientists measured1.
They found that middle-aged women with raised CRP levels had an increased risk of experiencing the various symptoms of PMS. The risk increase was between 26% and 41%1. This is clearly a strong link but it doesn’t prove conclusively that inflammation causes PMS. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the study only included middle-aged women. The scientists concluded that more research is needed as it is a complex relationship, with many other factors.
What does this mean for me?
The study suggests that acute inflammation increases your risk of PMS. Understanding the causes of period pain allows for more effective treatment. The scientists advised that women who suffer with period pain should consider lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation1. There are several steps you can take to avoid factors associated with increased inflammation.
What you can do:
Smoking is associated with increased inflammation in the body and may make period pains worse. If you smoke you should consider quitting or cutting down on the number of cigarettes you smoke, particularly before and during your period1.
Women who are overweight or obese are more likely to report symptoms of PMS and carrying extra weight increases inflammation in your body. Eating well and exercising more is the best way to lose weight healthily1.
Doing more exercise can help to lower inflammation in the body and is also recommended to reduce the severity of menstrual cramps1. Gentle exercise such as walking, slow jogging or yoga is best if you are in a lot of pain already.
This study should help to advance the cause of those women trying to make sure employers take PMS seriously. It’s often debilitating and can have a severe impact on women’s quality of life, and many people think more should be done to remove the taboo on talking about PMS.
There are firms in the UK who support women who suffer with period pain by encouraging them to talk openly about it and take time off from work if they need to. Hopefully, this practice will become more widespread so that women won’t have to be ashamed of struggling with PMS or taking sick leave for severe period pain .
Dealing with period pain
There are many methods you can use in the short term to get rid of period pain and help yourself feel better. You can take over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation. Hot water bottles and warm baths can also be effective for women with mild pain. If your period pain is severe and you experience it consistently every month, your doctor may prescribe oral contraceptives to help2
Other causes of period pain
This new link between inflammation and period pain is another useful piece of the puzzle and hopefully in the future it will help to reduce the impact of PMS on women’s lives. But while PMS and menstrual cramps are normal and very common, they can be linked to other medical issues.
If your periods are heavy, painful and irregular then the underlying cause could be endometriosis. This condition can affect women of any age, and occurs when cells from the lining of the uterus are found outside the womb3. It isn’t known what causes this common gynaecological condition but there are several medical and surgical treatments available. To find out more, read our helpful Endometriosis Q&A with three leading women’s health consultants.
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