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Seven ways to fight back at painful periods

It's the pits when you feel slow, sluggish and have pain when you get your period. But take heart, if you have painful periods, you're not alone and there are steps you can take to relieve the pain. Between 50 percent and 90 percent of women who get periods experience this pain, called dysmenorrhea. 

Painful periods fall into two categories: 

  • Primary dysmenorrhea refers to recurrent, crampy, lower abdomen pain during your period.
  • Secondary dysmenorrhea has the same symptoms but could be caused by a health issue, such as endometriosis (condition in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus), adenomyosis (condition in which endometrial tissue exists within and grows into the uterine wall) or uterine fibroids (non-cancerous growths that can develop in the uterus).

Talk to your health care provider. Usually talking to your provider about your medical history and physical symptoms will help them determine what can help. Here are some ideas that may make you feel more comfortable.

Tylenol or Advil
Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) according to package directions can help. Make sure to keep up with the recommended dosage for a few days until your menstrual pain is manageable.


Apply heat
Holding a hot water bottle or heating pad to your lower abdomen can really feel good, and it can help to relax cramping muscles. If you have a busy day, buy a heat therapy patch at a pharmacy to stick to your lower abdomen.

Apply heat

Whole person care
Some women benefit from yoga, meditation and acupuncture. 


Healthy foods
Eating healthy foods can decrease general inflammation in your body. Recommendations are two to three servings of fish each week, and eating more beans, vegetables and fruits is good for you. Eating three to four servings of dairy every day has also been shown in a clinical study to help some women who have painful periods.

healthy foods

Massage therapy
Doing an abdominal massage with aromatherapy once a day for a week before you get your period can also help. Examples of aromatherapy essential oils that may help include cinnamon, clove, rose and lavender in a base of almond oil. You can do this massage yourself, or you can work with a massage therapist.

Massage therapy

Nutrition supplements
Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which include fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and halibut), avocadoes, walnuts, olive oil and flax seeds. Talk to a provider who knows about integrative medicine before taking an omega-3 pill (sometimes called fish oil). This is because the dosage varies based on other medical conditions you may have. There is some evidence that vitamin E, magnesium, thiamine, zinc and vitamin D supplements can also be beneficial.

Nutrition supplement

Herbalists have used plant-based botanicals for hundreds of years to help women who have painful periods. It's best to talk to an integrative medicine provider before trying botanicals as a way to manage your symptoms because the dosage can vary based on other medical conditions you have. Some of the botanicals available to help menstrual pain include black cohosh, valerian, oats, ginger, fennel, thyme and raspberry leaf tea.



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