Unfortunately painful periods affect many women and for some may be extremely debilitating. This condition known medically as dysmenorrhea, may be so crippling that women are admitted to hospital. While a little discomfort is normal, pain however that is extreme is abnormal and a proper diagnosis of the cause if coming from a particular disorder should be analyzed. Particular examples of these syndromes include Endometriosis, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, cysts or even IBS.
Primary dysmenorrhea starts at the onset of, or soon after, the menstrual cycle of a young girl, while secondary dysmenorrhea develops later in life due to other extenuating reasons. From a western point of view the treatment of choice is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, or birth control pills to reduce the severity, unless of course the underlying cause comes from some other disease.
From a Chinese point of view we need to differentiate between excess/deficiency, cold/heat, qi or blood. As a therapist the treatment principle is to regulate qi (energy) and blood so as to maintain a proper flow in the area.
Acupuncture can be very helpful in alleviating dysmenorrhea. The practice can effectively move stagnant qi and blood, opening up the meridian channels within the body. It also counteracts pain by increasing the endorphin levels in one’s blood.1.
“Bu Tong Zhe Tong, Tong Zhe Bu Tong”, which translates into ‘pain is caused by stagnation and absence of stagnation will relieve pain’. To understand the causes though your practitioner must evaluate the nature, location and severity of the pain.
Depending on the diagnosis certain herbal formulas are prescribed, which can best assist breaking up the stagnation, while other formulas treat cold and/or dampness obstructing the uterus. Along with acupuncture, herbs can be used to control estrogens and progesterone levels in order to decrease the severity of cramping. Once the cause of the pain has been identified, the correct formula can be tailor made for you. The effect of these formulas are to treat the root cause and not just treat the symptoms.2.
Treating the mind with Exercise and Sleep
The treatment of stress can also be linked back to Chinese herbs, as there are many herbs aimed at balancing a stressed body. Many patients ask me what they can do to help themselves. From a lifestyle point of view, one should try and avoid or at least decrease stress, as this is a causative factor for stagnation and pain. Light exercise is a good way to release endorphins and relax the muscles. This may mean taking up yoga or meditation or whatever type of exercise you enjoy practicing. This will also aid in alleviating other symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and general achiness. For some, however, stress relief may be as simple as resting the body and mind. While exercise is necessary, so too is rest. Getting a good amount of regular sleep can also help to counter stress related symptoms.
Avoid the Cold
One should avoid cold foods and beverages. The ingestion of cold food and drink can result in stagnation and increased muscle cramping; when drinking water, be sure that it is room temperature or warmer. Swimming and exposure to cold climates are also not recommended, especially during the period, as this also contributes to stagnation.3.
When dysmenorrhea is not associated with another more serious disorder it may be because of an increase in prostaglandins in the endometrium. This liquid compound produced during menstruation causes hyperactivity of the uterine wall. The muscles in turn increases contractions and therefore cramping. The most common choice for pain relief are anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen however curcumin found in turmeric, has long been used for the relief of period pain, as well as amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) indigestion and excessive gas. The root aids in inhibiting the formation of prostaglandins and therefore decreases the contractions.4. Other herbs that are commonly used to regulate hormones include Chasteberry (Vitex Agnus). This herb has been used historically as a hormone stabilizer, treating PMS as well as menopausal symptoms. It is also used to reduce pain sensitivity due to its dopamine effect on the body. 5.
Dysmenorrhea does not have to something you must simply ‘suffer’ with as a woman. Seek alternative treatment and try some new methods as there are many ways to treat this disorder.