This is always a slightly awkward and taboo subject, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s something that happens to half the global population on something approaching a monthly basis and there is no shame in it. One of the really unfortunate symptoms of PCOS is awful periods. And by awful I mean that they can be irregular, heavy and painful, as well as coming with a plethora of unpleasant side effects like dizziness, headaches and nausea. While many of these symptoms can be alleviated by the use of a contraceptive pill, not all PCOS warriors can take the pill so I thought it might be handy to have a small post about dealing particularly with the stomach cramps, sometimes known as dysmenorrhea.
The first thing to try is magnesium. I know I mentioned it before, but studies (here and here, for example) have shown that it can reduce stomach cramps, especially on the second and third days of the period. It’s believed to be because it can act as a muscle relaxant.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the only prescribed treatment I’ve commonly seen. This family of drugs includes things like aspirin and ibuprofen, which are available to purchase over the counter but should really be discussed with a doctor prior to taking, especially if it’s sustained use over a few days each month, as these drugs do occasionally have side effects. NSAIDs work by blocking prostaglandin production which is important because high levels of prostaglandin have been linked to dysmenorrhea.
Heat pads or hot water bottles have been proven to be effective in pain relief for dysmenorrhea. Studies here and here have shown that the use of a heat pad is actually as effective as taking ibuprofen at reducing pain levels from menstrual cramps.
Exercise is an interesting arena of discussion when it comes to stomach cramps. If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do when your uterus is trying to burn the house down is do some yoga or go for a walk, but for years doctors have been saying it’s an effective means of reducing period pain. This review of the available clinical/scientific literature on the subject concludes that while it should help logically, there’s actually very little concrete proof that it does help and so more research needs to be done. My takeaway from that is that if you want to do a little gentle yoga or go for a walk instead of curling up in bed feeling sorry for yourself, there are a lot of reasons why it could help and it may help but science kinda dropped the ball on this one. Go science.
Another area where science has really dropped the ball is orgasms. I know that the last thing you feel when you’re riding the red tide is sexy, but the truth is that orgasms release a flood of relaxants and endorphins and oxytocin into the blood stream, which is the body’s way of reducing pain and increasing relaxation. There’s a tonne of anecdotal evidence out there and I’ve seen a lot of articles citing individual doctors and nurses going on record saying that it will help alleviate cramps, but I have yet to find actual hard scientific research on the subject. I wonder why…
The final thing I would suggest is again something that there hasn’t been any scientific research carried out on but which I have seen mentioned many times in forums and have also experienced for myself. Switching to a menstrual cup instead of using a tampon or pad seems to decrease stomach cramps. Companies that market menstrual cups have done their own research and concluded the same thing and while that’s not really surprising and all research carried out in favour of a corporation by said corporation should be taken with a pinch of salt, it’s still fairly compelling. On a personal note, I experienced a significant decrease in cramps when I switched to a cup from using pads. Slightly off topic, but actually well within the remit of this post, I know a lot of women who have PCOS and experience heavy bleeding during their periods find it much easier to use a cup than other methods. They can overflow but if you empty them regularly they will save you a significant amount of money in sanitary products, are a lot more comfortable to wear than big thick pads or tampons and are more environmentally friendly. I’m kind of evangelical about them, even though I’d be the first to admit that there’s a major learning curve when using one at first. There are some great resources out there on the internet though. Maybe something to consider, if you’re open to trying new things and suffer badly from heavy bleeding or excessive period pains.
I hope this will help and perhaps make your periods a little less miserable!