I think Aunt Flo is trying to kill me
May 28, 2010 3:47 AM   Subscribe

After 20 some years of having my period, everything hurts and aches so much more. I can't sleep because of it either and am averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a night. Suggestions for eliminating pain immediately (please please) when regular remedies aren't working?

My period used to be like clockwork and never caused me this much pain or problems until two months ago.

For the past two months, I've had a pretty awful time staying asleep. It's never been a problem before, and nothing is particularly different in my life. In the past, I would have a semi-sleepless night due to PMS, but now, no matter if I take 2 Advil or Aleve, not only am I awake, I have deep muscle aches on the outside of my thighs, my lower back, my neck and also my calves that hurt, and the cramps are awful. I'm so very tired and I haven't been able to sleep aside from three hours a night. Sleeping pills don't help. I haven't taken any for the past two days because they've been a bust, but I end up waking up at 3 am and then falling asleep at 7, but I have to leave for work by 8.

This time, I also had, as part of the PMS package, a couple of really horrible migraines with a green aura (just from seeing out my right eye). I saw some flashes of yellow during a quick migraine earlier this evening. This never happened in my life before this month. I feel irritable, depressed, and extremely tired. I'm also too hot one minute and too cold the next.

I used to just start my period, but now I have a half week of spotting, followed by heavy clotted bleeding. My cycles vary from 28 to 30 to 45 days (just this year, used to be like clockwork), so I can barely tell when it's coming. I don't use any kind of hormonal birth control because after having tried a number of them in previous years, they made me very ill.

We're supposed to leave for California later this evening and I'd planned to spend a lot of time on the beach splashing around and now that's ruined. But we spent a lot of money to go on this trip and I don't want to end up lying in bed the whole time with a heating pad and in tears. I'd wanted to go hiking, but my lower back extremely sore, like someone's been throwing dumbbells at it.

I don't have any time to go to the doctor today because of a big project due and then leaving for the airport. I'm feeling extremely uncomfortable and tired and on the verge of tears and it wasn't supposed to start this early. The heavy clotting hasn't even started yet but I'm in a ton of pain.

Are there any tips or recommendations for how to deal with pain and not being able to sleep because of my period? Is there any way to save my vacation, splash around on the beach and still go hiking without wanting to lie in the middle of the trail? Are there any OTC remedies/therapies besides Advil and Midol and Aleve that might help me? I'm going to get some of those sticky heating pad things at the drugstore as soon as I can get downtown.
posted by anniecat to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if any of those things contain codeine but if you can find some of that it will probably help with the pain and the sleeping. 16mg is usually enough to send me off.

Oh and I'm sure you're already going to do this, but definitely go to your doctor when you come home! It could be a sign of something wrong, but even if it's not they'll be able to help you with the pain.

Apart from that I wish you the best of luck and you have my sympathy! Maybe the warmth of the beach could replace your heating pad for a while?
posted by teraspawn at 3:57 AM on May 28, 2010

Can you get some anti-inflammatories? You could rub Voltaren gel on the painful areas which sinks in pretty quickly to address some of this pain. Although it sucks that this is all happening when you are going on vacation, maybe take a tiny look on the bright side, at least you have time to take care of yourself without work demands :)
posted by honey-barbara at 4:08 AM on May 28, 2010

Best answer: I love ThermaCare heatwraps - you might not be free of the heating pad, but at least you can cut the cord.

I've tried a couple of generics (they're expensive), but keep coming back to the Lower Back & Hip wrap, which consists of a stretchy band with velcro closure. The low profile "stick-on" menstrual wraps I find to be not sticky enough to move around in.
posted by clerestory at 4:23 AM on May 28, 2010

I'm sorry to hear about this. I would recommend going to see your ob-gyn as soon as you can. I had to get my uterus scraped for fibroids, after my period got increasingly heavier and longer. I might also recommend a good long massage during your vacation; it might not make everything feel better, but it would be a balm for the back and muscle achiness. And it would be a treat. Enjoy your trip!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:49 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have any immediate suggestions, certainly nothing that could help you with your trip, but migranes, hot/cold flashes, irregular cycle length... sounds like premenopause. Which, given your age (early to mid-thirties, yes?) would seem to be a little early, but not unheard of.

I'm afraid all I can recommend is that you get yourself to a doctor when you get back. hormone replacement therapy can be effective, but is totally not something you can do over the counter.
posted by valkyryn at 4:51 AM on May 28, 2010

Have you been having regular pap smears? If not, see a doctor sooner rather than later.

I don't want to unnecessarily alarm you, but my aunt had symptoms quite similar to this, she ignored them until she was pacing at night, went to the doctor, was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and this story had a horrible, sad ending six weeks later. She hadn't had a pap smear for eight years. I'm sincerely not trying to freak you out, but not a day goes by that I don't wish my aunt had gone to a doctor, and got her freaking pap smears.
posted by smoke at 5:06 AM on May 28, 2010

Best answer: I absolutely agree that you should go to the ob/gyn to find out if you have fibroids or something else that they can help with.

In the meantime, it's been my experience that there is a world of difference between the times when I take painkillers starting at the first sign of my period and the times when I wait for things to get painful first. I'd hurt all night in the second case -- the OTC painkillers could maybe dull the pain a little, but they couldn't really touch it once it got started. But any time I acted preemptively and kept up with the dosages as recommended, on the presumption that I'd be sorry if I didn't, a regular dose of Aleve or Advil was (to my extreme surprise, until I got used to the phenomenon) plenty. I believe this is even a commonly accepted tenet of pain management, that it's much easier to medicate preemptively than to try to alleviate pain that's already taken hold.
posted by redfoxtail at 5:42 AM on May 28, 2010

(I realize it may be too late for my advice to be useful this month -- I just wanted to get it out there, because there will be months after this one, too.)
posted by redfoxtail at 5:44 AM on May 28, 2010

I'm really sorry that you're suffering from such pain. I'm going to echo the other folks here and suggest that a visit to your gynecologist is in order to rule out fibroids, endometriosis or other causes of very painful periods. I don't have those conditions but I did have painful periods. At one point I was on Ponstel because regular ibuprofen wasn't cutting it. I have also had good luck with tramadol. Of course these are both prescriptions that you would have to obtain from a physician, but they did give my relief and let me join the regular world.
Another thing that has helped, that would work along the lines of hormone replacement therapy because it's regulating your hormones, is birth control pills. If that is an option for you, I highly suggest it.
See if you can get in to see someone today before the weekend? And I hope you feel better.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:00 AM on May 28, 2010

Another vote for seeing your doctor when you're back, but on your vacation, a hot water bottle - as hot as you can stand it, and if the water in your hotel isn't hot enough, get one of those little hot pots or use the coffee maker - might at least help you sleep. And you should be able to call your doctor once you get to California, explain what's going on, and have them send a prescription for something that would help a lot more than what you're taking to a nearby outlet of any of the chain drugstores. Wait to call until you're out of town so they can't decide that if it's not important enough for you to come in right this minute, it's not important enough for a prescription. Chain drugstores should be able to get a prescription where your doctor is and fill it where you are.

Good luck,
posted by EllenC at 6:26 AM on May 28, 2010

Vitamin E is suppose to help with cramps. It's cheap and doesn't have a much in the way of side effects. It might be worth a try. I've known some woman who've had good success with it.


posted by stray thoughts at 6:44 AM on May 28, 2010

Best answer: Raspberry Leaf Tea--drink a lot, drink it often. I find it helps move the process along faster. Drink a ton of water, too. Avoid salty foods and caffeine.

I think ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) is the best OTC for cramps. But- and IANAD so do this at your own risk -I have been able to get away with taking more than the recommended dose on the bottle. It usually says 400 mg every 4-6 hours is the maximum, but I've taken 600 mg (3 pills) at times when the cramps are extra bad. Wikipedia reports 800 mg is supposed to be the maximum dose "under medical direction," and I was taking that (as a prescription) four times a day when I got my wisdom teeth out. But stay hydrated and avoid alcohol if you're taking this much!

Again, IANAD and I definitely agree with everyone that you should see your doctor as soon as you get back, and also that it's a good idea to call your clinic and ask for them to send over a prescription for something stronger to get you through the weekend. Or maybe they can give the official go-ahead for you to take a much higher ibuprofen dose than you would normally. Good luck!
posted by castlebravo at 6:53 AM on May 28, 2010

nthing the suggestion to make an appointment to see your ob/gyn as soon as you get back, and in the meantime, get ahead of the pain. start taking a couple of advil every six hours whether the pain is bearable or not. take it with food, if it upsets your stomach. it won't hurt you to do this for a week unless you have some kind of stomach problem. (don't do this with tylenol, though--that can be hard on your liver.)

and see the doctor when you get back.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:31 AM on May 28, 2010

When I was a teenager the only thing that helped me were prescription 800 mg ibuprofen tablets. I still sometimes take 4 200 mg pills when my cramps are particularly bad. Have you tried taking more than 2 Advil?

Another thing that helps is a Calcium and Magnesium supplement. I like the powdered kind you can find at Whole Foods or natural foods stores. It's a natural muscle relaxant, and has been shown to help with menstrual problems. It helps me a lot too. I don't know if you have time to get some before you leave, and it may not be the best thing to take before traveling because it can cause, um, digestive issues, but it may be something to keep in mind for the future.
posted by apricot at 7:38 AM on May 28, 2010

See your GP when you get back. Get a referral to a neurologist for the migraines-- my old GP was useless about menstrual migraine, but my neuro has been great.

And yes, call your doc for a pain scrip when you get out to CA. Tell them you're coming back in when you get home to get this sorted.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:18 AM on May 28, 2010

Nthing the doc advice.

In the meantime, the only thing that helped me when I have really, really awful cramps is taking as many different kinds of painkillers as possible (ie max out your four-hourly allowance of non-interacting drugs, like 2 high strength paracetamol and 2 high-strength ibuprofen) and lying completely flat and completely still on my belly on a cool bed, in the dark if possible, with eyes closed and my legs wide apart.

Yeah, it's not dignified. Who cares. I made myself lie there even after I was convinced it wasn't going to work this time because eventually it did work - the cramps would die off and, more importantly, I would be able to sleep.

This probably isn't helpful during travelling, but it might be worth a try once you arrive. In my lay-person brain, it works because it's stretching out the muscles which are trying to close around your empty uterus - but I don't know what the actual science is.
posted by citands at 8:21 AM on May 28, 2010

When you get back you might find some of the advice in this thread helpful. For now, try taking Valerian capsules to help you sleep - in addition to having a mild sedative effect, it's an antispasmodic, so it can ease cramping. It's the stinkiest pill you'll ever swallow, but I've found it works like nothing else.
posted by donnagirl at 8:36 AM on May 28, 2010

Best answer: I have terrible cramps, and in the past, I've gotten by due to ibuprofen therapy -- that is, taking 2-4 pills a day for the three days leading up to my period, and then 4 (250mg) pills twice a day during the first three days of my period.

This helped. So did eating flaxseed muffins, strangely enough.

I'm abroad right now, and the gynecologist here recommended something I've never been given before for menstrual pain -- it's called Trenaxa MF. It's composed of Tranexamic Acid and Mefenamic Acid; one inhibits bleeding (so this is only really useful if your flow is heavy), the other inhibits cramping. A little googling shows that the FDA has just approved Trenexamic Acid for this use, and that Mefenamic acid has been FDA-OK for a while.

There's also anti-spasmodics... someone on another thread recommended Spasfon, which I haven't been able to find where I am, but I was given Spasmindol. You might want to figure out if that's available in the States!

Good luck; you've got my sympathies!
posted by artemisia at 8:46 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely nthing see an ob-gyn ASAP.

smoke already laid out the worst-case scenario. In the least-worst-case, you have "dysmenorrhea", and going on the pill can help with or eliminate the pain. If you're *already* on the pill, you might need a different pill.

Either way, it's time for medical intervention, since the list of things that could be going on is really long.

Good luck, and feel better!
posted by Citrus at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2010

Best answer: I know usually they say do heat with cramps, but I've always found laying on my stomach on tile flooring helpful. I used to have cramps so bad that I couldn't sit up--my abs were too tired! I found alternating heat on my back with laying on cold on my front helped. If you can get it, try codeine--good pain relief plus it sends me right to sleep. Also, try some breathing relaxation exercises. When I started to get worked up about the pain and desperate for a change, I would get tense and it would make things worse. Plus half the time diaphragmatic breathing puts me to sleep anyhow.
posted by gilsonal at 10:10 AM on May 28, 2010

As the somewhat repetitive advice in this thread shows, there isn't really a one-shot, truly fast and effective remedy for extreme menstrual pain. I have endometriosis, so if such a thing existed, I would climb any mountain to obtain it, so all I can do is add weight to the things people have already mentioned that help a bit for me. I only wish I had more encouraging advice to give you.

First, yes, doctor, ASAP. This is a big change that needs to be seen to. Second, starting Advil a few days before your period. Usually I'll take two pills every 6-8 hours for the two or three days before. This is a commonly used technique that helps because of the way the anti-inflammatory nature of Advil relates to the prostaglandins that cause menstrual pain.

Second, and this is the big one, you can safely take way, way more than two little pills when the cramps get going. Again, this is per my doctor, I take 800mg (4 pills) every 5-6 hours. Be sure not to take the Advil on an empty stomach as it can be irritating.

Third, I like heat, either with a heating pador very long, hot baths. Since I get a ton of pain in my back and thighs, performed by myself or someone else sometimes helps.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:09 PM on May 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for all the suggestions. I'm going to leave work early and hit the drugstore to see what I can take with me. The Aleve isn't helping and I'm afraid if I take more it will be hard on my stomach. Wearing tampons somehow makes it feel like the cramping is worse, and I don't know how I'll make it through the non-stop flight.

I'm okay, I think, I just feel unusually distressed. I don't want anything scraped from me.

Will TSA let me have the Thermacare heating wraps with me through security? I'm not seeing anything on tsa.gov but I'm not sure if wearing one and having some in my purse would be something they'd ask me to throw away.

I can't make it without them. If they take those away, is there anything that I could buy that I could take with me to keep it warm down there during the flight?
posted by anniecat at 12:17 PM on May 28, 2010

Non medicinal triggerpoint massage on the adductor magnus and lateral abdominals might help. see this link.
posted by Eltulipan at 12:51 PM on May 28, 2010

Best answer: Just my two cents on my experiences. I've had very painful periods my whole life and they just keep getting worse. The advice that I've received from multiple doctors (not that I'm giving you medical advice, this is just what works for me) is to take 800mg of Ibuprofen (4 pills) every 6 hours. That's a prescription level dose. Also, what someone above said re taking pills at the first sign of pain rather than waiting for it to get really bad. I have to start taking ibuprofen when I first have spotting, 3-4 days before my period and keep taking it on a regular schedule until the cramps stop. That's the only thing that works for me, and it does make it manageable.

Oh, and yes, you can wear and take thermacare wraps through airport security. I have to wear them when I travel for my back and I make sure to put one on just before going through security and having more in my bags. I've never gotten any hassle about it.
posted by threeturtles at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2010

I feel your pain. Literally.

How are your magnesium levels? Try taking a magnesium & calcium supplement daily and see how next month goes. That helps my leg/body/belly cramps heaps.

Naproxen sodium - Aleve (Naprogesic in Aust) became my best friend. Not trying to teach you to suck eggs, but are you following the guidelines and taking one at the first sign of cramps/blood? Doing that allows it to stop the production of prostaglandins before they can cause pain. Don't forget to take them with at least some food. They don't really work if you don't.
posted by Kerasia at 2:57 PM on May 28, 2010

for the night-time, the Advil PMs come highly recommended. & yeah, magneseum supplement might help. There's a powder-drink one called "CALM." (caution: too much will cause the runs.) also, if you or anyone has some heavier duty painkillers left over from something (vicodans, etc) now is the time to whip 'em out!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:13 PM on May 28, 2010

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