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December 18, 2010 4:54 PM   Subscribe

What do you do for awful period cramps? TMI warning

I usually get somewhat bad cramps that are cured with an ibuprofen or two. Today I popped an Advil, went out, and half an hour later had to come back home because the pain was so bad.

I turned white and had dark circles under my eyes, felt faint and woozy, started sweating and then shaking with chills, and vomited about 7 times. The pain was probably some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my entire life; I just got out of bed after laying down for about 6 hours.

This has never happened to me before! I have been on BC in the past but none now. Has anyone had experience with cramps like this? What did you do for them? I don't want to be incapacitated next month.

My question is twofold:

a) What can I do to lessen pain/vomiting should this occur in the future?


b) is this a possible bad sign of anything health-wise?

posted by queens86 to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have this problem with the additional bonus that I am deathly allergic to aspirin/ibuprofen/sodium naproxen. I take prescription pain pills which don't always work. Drinking lots of water sometimes helps.
posted by Lobster Garden at 4:58 PM on December 18, 2010

Maybe go get yourself checked for endometriosis or some other type of cycsts. The exam absolutely should include a ultrasound.

posted by jbenben at 5:00 PM on December 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

I should also add that I have to start drinking a lot of water before the cramps even start. If I wait too long, no amount of anything will help at all.
posted by Lobster Garden at 5:01 PM on December 18, 2010

oops. I meant "cysts."
posted by jbenben at 5:01 PM on December 18, 2010

Hot water bottle on the stomach helps a lot. I think you should see a doctor because those are some awful symptoms, sort of like when I used to get a migraine with every period. If this is once off maybe you got food poisoning at the same time as your period?

If you never want to have children then you should look up endometrial ablation - this is the ultimate cure for period pains. If you're getting your tubes tied and have painful periods it is easy for them to do it at the same time.
posted by meepmeow at 5:01 PM on December 18, 2010

I'd call my gynecologist (or at this time of night, my 24-hour nurse line.) Extreme pain plus vomiting plus sweating plus feeling faint = potentially bad. And drinking water helps me, but I've never had anything as bad as what you're describing.
posted by SMPA at 5:03 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would recommend a call to your gynecologist precisely because the pain was out of the ordinary. And it sounds like your body was going into shock.

Anecdotally, the only time my cramps were way, way worse than they had ever been turned out to be caused by an ectopic pregnancy.

Things that help me with my normal (still terribly painful for a few hours) cramps: a heavy dose of ibuprofen and a ton of water as soon as I get that little uterus twinge, aerobic exercise, a heating pad, and massaging my low abs.
posted by rhapsodie at 5:07 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

If this level of pain is not normal for you, I would head to the doctor and have them check it out. I used to have severe cramps, which are now a lot better after I had surgery to remove my fibroids. However, my cramps were fairly consistent, and the way you've described it, it sounds like your current pain level is much worse than usual.

In the meantime, try a hot water bottle or heating pad, along with continuing to take ibuprofen at the appropriate dosage and interval specified on the bottle.
posted by bedhead at 5:08 PM on December 18, 2010

Sorry you're feeling so crappy. I can relate - I used to feel like this about every other month.

I would check with your OB/GYN to see if there might be something going on, but in the meantime, I used to take 3 ibuprofen and lie down with a heating pad on my lower abdomen. The heat with the ibuprofen seemed to usually do the trick. It definitely wasn't a long-term solution and does nothing for being able to function though.
posted by garnetgirl at 5:09 PM on December 18, 2010

Please talk to a doctor about these symptoms. I had terrible periods with cramps and vomiting when I was younger, and going on a hormonal birth control method really helped. In retrospect, I also think I had undiagnosed migraines during my migraines. Did you have a headache along with this?
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:11 PM on December 18, 2010

If you have a fever (102°F, 38.8°C or higher as it says in that link) as well as vomiting, you need to consider Toxic Shock syndrome.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:11 PM on December 18, 2010

Yes! Go to the ER! It could be Toxic Shock Syndrome.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: No fever, no headache. I feel 100% better right now (currently up and about to eat) but I will definitely talk to my gyno if this happens again, and maybe now. I am out of the country but I can email her/find a gyno here to see.

Thanks everyone!
posted by queens86 at 5:14 PM on December 18, 2010

Definitely go to the doctor to make sure there's nothing else going on. If you check out fine otherwise, you might want to consider taking more than just one ibuprofen or two. To be honest, I take about 3-4 every few hours during my period because my cramps are that bad. You should really check with your doctor to make sure you're in good enough health to take that kind of dose every month, but in reality it's basically just RX strength motrin that dentists give out for toothaches all the time. My doctor has said it's fine if it's just a few days out of the month and it keeps me from being completely incapacitated.

Also I definitely nth the suggestion of a heating pad. I have an electric one that I crank up to the highest setting and lay in bed with it on my abdomen or lower back while I wait for the ibuprofen to kick in.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:21 PM on December 18, 2010

(I was typing this out forfreakingever, and then you posted you were fine, and now I don't want to toss it out because I thought, what if you start to feel crappy again, or what if someone reads this thread later and maybe it helps them! So I'm going to post it anyway.)

Go get checked out at the doctor, to make sure it's not endometriosis or other problems, because if it is, you need to make sure to get specific treatment for it. Before I started with this system, I regularly missed at least a day from school/work, if not two or three, each month since the first time I got my period when I was 11! I had terrible, really debilitating pain that wasn't changed by the pill by itself. Here is what works for me:

Being on the pill allows me to know exactly when the withdrawal bleeding is most likely to start (I hate calling that a period, because it isn't a real period because the pill is messing with your hormone cycle to suppress natural menstruation in the first place, but I'm derailing). I start my new pill packs on Thursdays, because it will mean that usually the withdrawal bleeding "period" starts on the Sunday of my pill-off week (which is a day I don't work, and can usually afford to stay in bed if I actually need to, although I almost never need to, because of the following step). [Optional step 2 to circumvent the issue entirely is taking pill packs continuously without pill-off weeks, so that you have fewer withdrawal bleeds or don't have them at all; you would get this set up with your doctor. Insurance plans don't like paying for this though.]

I start taking regular doses of Aleve (you can also use Advil for the same purpose) on Friday afternoon/evening, and I take them once every 12 hours, through Monday or so. The naproxen or ibuprofen prevent your uterus from releasing prostaglandins, which are the hormones that trigger the cramps. Taking it BEFORE you start having cramps is what prevents them from being released. Now, understand that taking a lot of Aleve or Advil is not the best thing for your stomach/digestive system, so it's a good idea to talk to your doc about this idea too to be sure it isn't going to do you more harm than good, but most people can handle it safely (I say that because my NP told me, not because I am saying everyone should do it). In all seriousness, doing this changed my life--I haven't missed a day of work due to cramps, or even really had more than mild cramping on the first day of bleeding, since I started.
posted by so_gracefully at 5:24 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Codeine seems to work better as a painkiller than ibuprofen, around here. YMMV, doctor, fibroids, etc etc.
posted by Leon at 5:30 PM on December 18, 2010

I used to have similar cramping/vomiting (vomiting b/c I'm just really sensitive to my own hormones, as pregnancy has proven again).

My doctor always told me to take Aleve starting BEFORE the cramps, if at all possible, and then keep taking it on a regular schedule. As so_gracefully says, the key is to start the Aleve BEFORE the cramping, which helps prevent it. I also had Rx-strength naproxen (Aleve) sometimes, especially during finals or whatever.

Beyond that, heating pad and taking it easy. But really the Aleve-in-advance-and-throughout is the winning combination.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:31 PM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I suffer from this kind of cramping once in a blue moon and have pretty bad cramps in general. It used to be more frequent but then I went on the birth control pill for many years and the painful cramps pretty much went away. I'm off the pill now and had a period a few months ago that involved writhing on the floor and vomiting bile for hours along with cold sweaty chills etc. It was awful! It also only lasted for about 6 hours, and part of that is when I passed out from the pain :(

You need to go to a doctor now, before it happens again. They will check you out for the more serious things cramps like that can indicate and then can also give you a prescription for pain medication so you can prevent this from happening again. I usually take 500mg Naproxyn every twelve hours for a few days at the start of my period (ie or even before it starts as mentioned by so_gracefully) but am now trying out Tramadol since that last time freaked me out! (It was that bad of pain even with taking Naproxyn before the cramping started)
posted by smartypantz at 5:39 PM on December 18, 2010

This sometimes happens to me when I'm not eating or sleeping well, not drinking enough water, or otherwise not taking care of myself.

If you are taking good care of yourself, and that can't possibly be the culprit, I agree with everyone that you should consult your doctor.

(Also, and I'm not sure this is helpful to you at all, I find that in the months since I've gone off Nuvaring, my period is different from both how it was on Nuvaring and how it was before I was on birth control at all. I feel like my PMS-ometer has somehow reset itself.)
posted by Sara C. at 6:22 PM on December 18, 2010

I get period pain so severe that if untreated I can't walk or stand.

It feels my uterus is a furious hedgehog trying to bite and claw its way out of my abdomen.

(In my case, it's due to Polycystic ovary syndrome combined with retrograde menstruation.)

My regime, so that I can function normally:

At the very first sign of period pain, even if it's just the initial warning twinge:

2 PONSTAN capsules (Mefenamic Acid) with food (the food is very important, PONSTAN on an empty stomach can be caustic to your stomach lining)

2 Panadeine tablets (Paracetamol and Codeine phosphate)

A microwaved heat pack (wheat bag) applied to the site of pain

if it is really bad, I also add

2 NUROFEN PLUS tablets (Ibuprofen 200mg and Codeine phosphate 12.8mg) with food (the food is very important, NUROFEN PLUS on an empty stomach can be caustic to your stomach lining)

Other things I do: long hot showers, lying down flat on my back with a wheat pack on my abdomen/pelvis.

I also take magnesium, evening primrose oil, and fish oil every day of the year - it seems to help make my periods less savage.

Causes of severe period pain: you want to see a GP to rule out pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can result from an infection; also endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 6:37 PM on December 18, 2010

When I got an IUD, I started to get cramps that were so painful I felt lightheaded and dizzy, and I would get sweaty and feel like I was gong to faint. I found that a combination of Aleve and a heating pad is what works best for me. When I'm at work, I use those cordless heating pads that warm up when you expose them to air, and they are pretty much that which miracles are made of as far as I'm concerned.
posted by rosethorn at 6:50 PM on December 18, 2010

My aunt recommends "have a kid". She took prescription painkillers every month and was considering a hysterectomy, but after she had my cousin, her cramps stopped. YMMV, and then you're stuck with a kid, eh?

Though I was, at one point, seriously considering her 'method' I do a few other things now that seem to help. Just prior to my period, I stop eating cheese and any soy products. I also cut back on salt and drink more water.
posted by lesli212 at 6:57 PM on December 18, 2010

Back to second the recommendation for Nurofen Plus, if you can get it in the country where you are. Ibuprofen + codeine is the only thing that would knock out my most severe period pain, but in some places you can't get it without a prescription.
posted by bedhead at 7:18 PM on December 18, 2010

Yes, doctor, especially if this is a new thing. A few months back I started having similar pain--sweaty, stabbing, near passing out. Was diagnosed with fibroids, one of which was determined to be the culprit and had to come out. I woke up from anesthesia to the news that that big "fibroid" was actually adenomyosis, and the pain would continue as long as I have a uterus. Super. I'm trying an IUD as a last resort; the Mirena eases adeno symptoms for many women. I was prescribed Tylenol 3 (with codeine), but so far the Mirena is good enough. A heating pad makes it slightly less awful. To be honest, bourbon doesn't hurt, either.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:27 PM on December 18, 2010

You can mix Tylenol and Ibuprofen. If a regular dose of Ibuprofen doesn't help, I'll usually take one extra and then start adding Tylenol. Also, if it took more than usual to beat back the pain, I take my next dose as soon as possible, following the recommendations on the bottle.

But the only times I've had really unusual pain, I was able to trace it right back to, say, all that pizza the night before... I would be worried if you couldn't pin down a reason.
posted by anaelith at 8:35 PM on December 18, 2010

Oh, you poor thing, this sounds terrible! All the advice here about getting checked out for more serious problems should definitely come first. But if you establish with your doctor that you basically are just unlucky to have strong period cramps, and are supposed to deal with them however works, why keep having periods at all? Why suffer like that? I think it would be worth trying a monophasic pill and skipping the sugar pills-- always. My doctor recently condoned this (enthusiastically, I might add) as a way for me to deal with period cramps.
posted by ootandaboot at 9:14 PM on December 18, 2010

It could just be a coincidence that you got sick with something else at the same time your period cramps started. If it doesn't happen again during future periods, that's what I'd guess that it was. IANAD.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:27 PM on December 18, 2010

Do you drink a lot of coffee or smoke cigarettes? Both of those things make my cramps A LOT worse.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 10:45 PM on December 18, 2010

Did you take the advil when the cramps started or when the cramps got bad? I've always had the experience that if I take pain medication when i first feel the tiniest stir of cramps or at the exact moment my period starts...then I'm OK. but if I wait until the cramps start to get bad, then there's nothing that helps. It's like there's a sweet spot, and if i miss it (or wake up when the cramps are already bad) medication is completely ineffective and I'm doomed to lay in bed writing and crying because of the evil hedgehog burrowing and tearing its way out of my uterus (or that's how it feels). So..I suggest timing is everything.
posted by custard heart at 10:58 AM on December 19, 2010

As many people have mentioned, your doctor can get you a prescription or two to handle the pain. I'm on both prescription strength Naproxen and Tylenol 3 for my horrendous cramps, as we speak.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:19 PM on December 19, 2010

Ugh cramps - not a pleasant memory. If this kind of PMS continues, would you consider going back on BC? That was the best move I ever made. Especially when I switched to extended-cycle and only get it every 3 months! (You don't have to shell out for Seasonique - your doc can rx a regular pill and you only do placebo every 3 months, as long as it's the right kind of pill).

But yeah, Advil and a heating pad.
posted by radioamy at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2010

Nthing that you should definitely see a doctor, but if everything checks out, would you be opposed to going back on birth control? I used to get awful cramps that sometimes caused me to miss work, tried all kinds of natural and OTC remedies, but ultimately the only thing that made a significant difference was going on hormonal BC.
posted by spinto at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2010

FWIW, I get incredibly painful cramps and my foolproof method of dealing is to take aleve/advil at the first sign of my period - before there's even any pain. Then I lay down with a heating pad on my abdomen and the final part...go to sleep. If it's the middle of the day or I'm not sleepy, I take a half a tylenol pm but often just laying down and trying to relax does the trick. I know it's not feasable when you are out and about or have to go to work, but I've never woken up and still had the pain. Something about the muscles relaxing, I suppose. But my symptoms aren't as serious as the ones you've experienced, so, you know, listen to the people above.
posted by buzzkillington at 8:39 PM on December 20, 2010

A little late to the game, and things seem to be working out, but I just wanted to throw out there as a preventative measure: calcium supplementation. There seems to be indication of a correlation between bad cramping and insufficient calcium (and perhaps other minerals, like magnesium) in some women.

Anecdotally: regular calcium supplementation worked wonders. Like, amazing, send-it-around-the-world-in-a-chain-letter wonders.

Just an idea.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:44 PM on December 22, 2010

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