Help me smack Aunt Flo down!
November 21, 2005 10:02 AM   Subscribe

[Girl Filter] Hey Ladies, I've got a few questions about that oh so lovely monthly visitor...

My period takes a lot out of me, and it seems more than normal. My cramps start about a week before my actual period. They are so bad that I often double over because of the pain. About 3 days before I start my breasts are sore enough that I have to sleep in a bra. The most troubling part to me is the actual bleeding. It seems as I've gotten older the blood has gotten more "clotty", and the more clots, the more painful the period (or so it seems).

So, what's normal? Is there a way to make your flow less heavy? What do you do to combat the PMS symptoms?

For background, I am 24. I started for the first time when I was 11. My breasts are 36D-36DD (if that matters). I can't take medicines like midol because my body is extra sensitive to medicine in general.
posted by nadawi to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Depo Provera will shut that stuff right off.
posted by pieoverdone at 10:04 AM on November 21, 2005

This doesn't sound normal. What does your gynocologist say? (And if the answer is, I don't know because I haven't gone/haven't asked her/him, please go.)
posted by agregoli at 10:07 AM on November 21, 2005

Oh, that's the part I forgot. Last time I tried birth control (5 years ago), it made all the PMS symptoms worse and had the lovely side effect of making me completely crazy. For what it's worth, I was on orthotrycyclin.
posted by nadawi at 10:08 AM on November 21, 2005

Yes, go see your gynecologist. But anecdotally, BCPs solved all the cramps and heavy bleeding problems for me. Maybe trying a different kind would work for you? (I take Mircette.) Although I think that BCPs can actually increase your risk of blood clots, so that's another thing to address with an ob/gyn.
posted by amro at 10:14 AM on November 21, 2005

Oh, and for PMS: Evening Primrose Oil. It's amazing.
posted by amro at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2005

(Uh, for the emotional symptoms, not the cramps.)
posted by amro at 10:16 AM on November 21, 2005

Clots are a symptom of fibroids (benign tumours in the uterus) as are heavier periods with more cramping. You're young for this, but it's not impossible.
posted by jokeefe at 10:20 AM on November 21, 2005

I think that BCPs can actually increase your risk of blood clots

I think that risk statement refers to a different kind of clot...the kind that appears in your arteries. The kind nadawi's talking about don't have life-threatening risks -- those are from the uterine lining.
posted by Miko at 10:21 AM on November 21, 2005

I'd try something other than orthotrycyclin too - I was on Yasmin for awhile, and that shit was like Prozac. No cramps, no mood swings hardly, and no bloating (yay!). I don't like to advise drug-hopping, but with BCP, it might be the thing.

Unless the idea really icks you out, maybe consider switching to a Diva Cup? Aside from the money you save, I swear it's made my period shorter, and I've known other women say it helped their cramps. It does turn you into a bit of an evangelist ;)
posted by kalimac at 10:22 AM on November 21, 2005

Evening Primrose Oil used to help me a lot with generic PMS stuff, like cramps.

Drink lots of water, take long walks, avoid salt--blah, blah, blah. When things get really bad for me, I generally try to relax, take hot showers, curl up with the heating pad and eat candy.

I, uh, hear that masturbating might help a sister out.
posted by SassHat at 10:23 AM on November 21, 2005

Ditto on the Diva Cup! It does make my period seem shorter, just becase of how easy it is.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:24 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

A holistic approach to this problem might be helpful. In my experience, my periods really reflect how well I am treating my body for the rest of the month. Painful periods can be helped by exercise -- I've found yoga really helpful. You might also want to take a look at your diet and how much water you're drinking. Clotty bleeding and heavy bleeding can be a sign of iron deficiency, which you might want to get checked out.

I wouldn't jump too quickly to a hormonal solution like the pill, and I wouldn't completely trust a gyno who proposed that as the only solution. Not to say it hasn't helped a lot of people, but there are other ways to approach a problem like this.

Evening primrose oil can help with the breast pain, as can cutting out caffeine, some say that cutting out dairy can help as well.

The book Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Christiane Northrup is a wealth of information on the topic.

Most of all, don't give up -- use this as an excuse to get yourself as healthy as you would like to be.
posted by jennyjenny at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2005

I have suffered from the same problems, and really only three things have helped: regular exercise, cutting back on caffeine and drinking more water. I started exercising for a different reason, but the shortening and easing of my periods has been a lovely and highly motivating side effect.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:27 AM on November 21, 2005

My period also makes me forgetful as hell. Things I forgot, take 2.

I get a variety of bathroom problems. Both diarrea and too hard of stools at different times. The frequency also increases a great deal.

I can't hold a buzz. A lot of girls I know use marijuana to solve cramps, it doesn't even dent mine and the 'high' will only last for 10 minutes or so. I get the same problem with alcohol but to a lesser degree.

And I'm a freaking basket case. I'm prone to just a little crazy in general, but I go bat shit for the week.

On preview: masturbation helps during the *ahem* act, but directly there after and for about 20-30 minutes the cramps intensify by about triple.
posted by nadawi at 10:28 AM on November 21, 2005

I believe you should see a doctor. I am not a doctor, but your symptoms remind me of a syndrome called endometriosis.

Best wishes to you in your dealings with Aunt Flo.
posted by macinchik at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2005

Ask your doctor about pain relief options. My doctor told me I could take more ibuprofen than it says on the label -- 800 mg every eight (not four) hours for the day my cramps are worst. Midol is acetaminophen, so ibuprofen might have a different effect on you. If your cramps last for an entire week, though, this might not be the best solution.
posted by transona5 at 10:32 AM on November 21, 2005

Something you might want to consider doing in tandem to all these suggestions is to chart your cycles--that way you can pinpoint precisely when in your cycle you start having PMS symptoms and when each symptom occurs (I assume they aren't all happening at once).

Definitely see your doctor, though, and get checked out.
posted by eilatan at 10:33 AM on November 21, 2005

What eilatan said re: charting your cycles--a good way to start is by reading the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (which looks at charting as either a pregnancy prevention method or as a way of improving chances of conceiving, depending on how the woman practicing it chooses; it's still definitely useful as a "knowing your body" method, whether or not you choose to use it as birth control/etc). Another good resource is the fertilityawareness yahoogroup (which admittedly I haven't looked at in a year, so perhaps only the archives?), which is a loose group of women who both chart their fertility & also who're fairly knowledgable about herbalism without much of the new age/wiccan bent that tends to turn some people off.

Also, you might enjoy the book Cunt by Inga Muscio. It's directed at fairly young feminists, and what made me love it so much as an 18yr old isn't quite so interesting to me 8 years later. Still, she talks a lot about her own painful periods, and ways she copes--one thing she mentions is discovering that the painfulness of her cycle corresponds to the amount of over the counter painkillers she'd taken the month before..
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:45 AM on November 21, 2005

Some +1-ing of the above:

* You're not too young for fibroids.
* Trying a different BCP could likely help immensely -- they are not all the same animal.
* If you go/have been to your gyn and they blow off your symptoms as you being emotional or dramatic or whatever, go to someone else. Seriously.
posted by desuetude at 10:48 AM on November 21, 2005

Months I do yoga regularly: no cramps. Months that I don't: cramps.

I'm also in the midst of trying BCP pills for the first time and the difference in, um, flow is incredibly remarkable. Shorter, sleeker: a newer, more modern period. I had no idea it could be like this. I'm having some problems with (minor) mood swings and some other oddness, though, and I'm not sure which course of action I want to stick with.

Reading all of the other askfilter threads on birth control in general seem to devolve into BCP discussions that have been really helpful to me. See a doctor, read the threads, enjoy being a woman.
posted by armacy at 10:52 AM on November 21, 2005

I would echo the suggestion of talking to your doctor about endometriosis.
posted by SashaPT at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2005

This page (scroll down past the question) has a thorough chart of the hormones and potencies of different oral contraceptives, and suggestions of which ones to try based on the problematic side effects you've experienced.

Exercise lightened my periods a bit, but I've never had the problems you're having. Lendon Smith (sort of wacky doctor who's into vitamins) advocates taking daily calcium and magnesium supplements to help with PMS, which can't hurt, at any rate.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:57 AM on November 21, 2005

Definitely get this checked out by a medical professional. It does sound like endometriosis. And to echo desuetude, keep trying until someone listens. My OB/GYN dismissed my painful, heavy periods. It was my GP who finally said, "That's not right!" and found a large mass on one of my ovaries. Turned out to be harmless and easily treated, but my periods are a lot more gentle now that's it's gone.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:30 AM on November 21, 2005

After you rule out anything medical, rule out stress, depression or anxiety. Your girls will take your ass to the mat if you're running yourself into the ground and driving yourself apeshit crazy. Keep a good mental health regimen, eliminate sources of stress in your life + diet, exercise, limit salt/caffeine/alcohol. All month.
posted by Marnie at 1:16 PM on November 21, 2005

I used Ortho and that was the only thing that completely eliminated the cramps for me, but it was too strong for me (periods came late, I gained weight) so I stopped. I'm thinking about asking my doctor for the ortho-light stuff (Yasmin I think?)

Anyway, since getting off the pill, the cramps have steadily come back but I have a few experiential notes I could share with you:
- More caffeine the week before definately caused cramps
- Midol makes me nauseated, I usually take 800mg Motrin (4 pills) maybe *twice* a day with food for like the first couple of days. I know, it's hard to eat anything when you're cramping bad but you don't want stomach pains on top of the cramps so you gotta try at least some dry toast or something (I like mine with Nutella, so you get the chocolate fix too, yum). From my experience, the Motrin takes about 45 minutes to kick in, and if it's really bad I curl up with a heating pad in the dark until it does.
- When I'm good about exercise, that helps too but I admit, it's hard to keep that up!
posted by like_neon at 3:22 PM on November 21, 2005

some say that cutting out dairy can help as welll

This surprises me since there's been some stuff published lately that suggests that getting extra calcium from dairy sources can improve PMS symptoms. I can't attest to this personally, though, because I can never quite manage to get that much dairy in my diet...
posted by ch1x0r at 4:16 PM on November 21, 2005

ch1x0r, from what I've read (in a book by Christiane Northrup IIRC), the reason dairy can worsen PMS is that the growth hormones given to the cows get passed on in their milk. Maybe organic/rBGH-free milk helps but milk with trickle-down hormones doesnt?
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:16 PM on November 21, 2005

Mrs. Wet Spot had the same syptoms as you. Fibroids. Required a wombectomy. Has your gyno-doc given your plumbing the once-over with an ultrasound?
posted by Wet Spot at 5:47 PM on November 21, 2005

A friend who had endometriosis described very similar symptoms.

I do love the Keeper/Diva Cup and I, too, think it has made my period lighter, if not shorter. Exercise makes it shorter (working out 3-4 times a week). LunaPads have made it easier as well, and just generally less uncomfortable. They're so soft. (Assuming it doesn't squick you out.)

You might try to avoid non-organic meat and milk -- there are definitely hormones in there that could be affecting you. Or at least give it a shot for a month or so, and see if it makes a difference.

Go to the doctor.
posted by librarina at 6:12 PM on November 21, 2005

Another vote for you to ask your organ doc whether an ultrasound is in order. I say this because I had similar problems and mine recommended one.
posted by rebirtha at 6:41 PM on November 21, 2005

Too many suggestions were good to mark a best answer, but thanks for all the input.

A few things...
Yes, I need to take better care of myself re: diet/excercise. I do have a very physically demanding job and that keeps me fairly fit and I'm a vegetarian so my diet does a pretty good job of regulating itself. I can definatly do better, though.

On the caffeine topic, I have noticed that it has an impact...however, I noticed that it's certain types of caffeine. Dark drinks with caffeine, like coffee or colas, makes my next period awful. Things like redbull don't seem to make that much of a difference. Anyone else have this happen?

I also have not been to an ob/gyn in about 4 or 5 years, so I definately need to go. I have encountered the "this is all in your head" doctors and I feel better knowing that others feel like that answer is bullshit. When I get my insurance back at the new year I'll be setting up an appointment.

I've read much on endometriosis as my mother had it until she got all her girlie parts removed.

So, thanks again.
posted by nadawi at 9:38 PM on November 21, 2005

1. Ortho made me crazy too (my MD said it's because the level of hormones fluctuates throughout the month--hence the name TRI-cyclin)
2. Pilates has completely eliminated cramps for me. Strengthening your core muscles--through Pilates or yoga or other balance/ab training--is what I think can help most with cramps.
posted by chelseagirl at 6:25 AM on November 22, 2005

I also have not been to an ob/gyn in about 4 or 5 years, so I definately need to go. I have encountered the "this is all in your head" doctors and I feel better knowing that others feel like that answer is bullshit. When I get my insurance back at the new year I'll be setting up an appointment.

I should have a macro - your doctor works for you, don't put up with any bullshit like that. 25,000 new doctors are licensed every year and you can comparison-shop and vote with your dollar just as easily with them as you can with lunchmeat.

And set up the appointment now. My girlfriend has had to wait 3-4 weeks for a gyn appointment in the past, I am sure you can get most offices to schedule you an appointment 6 weeks in advance. If you wait till Jan you'll just have to wait some more.
posted by phearlez at 11:57 AM on November 22, 2005

Consider checking out your local Planned Parenthood (look for privately-funded clinics as well.) They charge for the visit based on a sliding scale according to your income. I went to clinics for years even after I had insurance, after bad experiences with prissy or unresponsive private-practice gyns.

If you do wait for your insurance to kick in, I agree to make that appointment right now for Jan. And go, even if your symptoms abate.

I've heard gyns say some fucked-up things. Don't be discouraged.
posted by desuetude at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2005

A note on birth control pills (this as much for armacy as for nadawi) - my first couple of cycles when I first started taking them, I had like EVERY SIDE EFFECT - my mood was all over the place, I even had morning sickness, I was a mess. By month three, my system got used to the pills and my periods were regular (which they had never been, hence the pills) and everything was much better.

(I had sort of the opposite problem from you though - I had like, no periods , so yeah.)

I've heard bad things about Orthotricyclen b/c of the fluctuating hormone levels, but non-tri ones are totally worth trying. I second the "see a doctor" thing.
posted by SoftRain at 12:27 PM on November 24, 2005

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