Treatment Options For Teen Menstrual Pain
Menstrual cramps affect about one-half of menstruating women. Also known as dysmenorrhea, the pain usually begins a few hours before or just after the onset of menstrual flow and often lasts 48 to 72 hours. It is characteristically strongest over the abdomen and may radiate to the back or inner thighs. Some adolescents also experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea, and headache.
Why does it have to hurt?
At the onset of a menstrual period, the lining of the uterus begins to slough off. This process causes the uterus to release inflammatory agents called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins increase uterine contractions, creating the sensation of cramps and other associated symptoms.
How can I get rid of menstrual pain?
While it may not be possible to get rid of all pain entirely, there are strategies that can help. For some, treatment with heat directly to the abdomen or back as needed may be enough.
For others, lifestyle management can decrease the tendency for menstrual pain.
Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week. Exercise releases the body’s natural endorphins, which act as painkillers.
Mind-body techniques, such as meditation, and exercises such as yoga and tai chi, can also help relieve pain.
Medications for menstrual pain
If lifestyle changes and comfort care are not enough, pain medications can be used to relieve pain associated with menstruation. Medical treatment of cramps focuses on decreasing the production of prostaglandins.
When taking pain medications, follow these rules:
It is ok to take pain medications each time they are due during the most painful days of your menstrual cycle.
Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS)
These work by directly reducing prostaglandin production. Over the counter choices include ibuprofen and naproxen. If over the counter dosing is not effective, your doctor may prescribe higher doses of these products.
Other pain medications
Acetaminophen and other over-the-counter products designated for menstrual pain do not necessarily work as anti-inflammatories, but they may provide relief when taken as directed. Since some products have multiple ingredients, it is a good idea not to use more than one type of product at a time.
Hormonal therapy (birth control pills)
If pain medications and NSAIDs are not working well, the doctor may recommend hormonal therapy ( birth control pills). Birth control pills work by suppressing ovulation and decreasing hormonal fluctuations. This reduces menstrual pain and can decrease the amount and duration of menstrual flow.
A gynecologic exam may not be necessary prior to starting hormonal therapy in teenagers with uncomplicated menstrual pain. In this situation, the pediatrician may be able to prescribe birth control pills without making a referral.
When to call a doctor
Call your doctor if pain is severe and unresponsive to self-treatments, or if it is accompanied by heavier-than-normal bleeding or other unusual symptoms.