Menstrual Cramps
February 26, 2004 11:51 AM   Subscribe

I have the worst cramps of anyone. When it is that time of the month for me, I can barely function because the pain is so bad. I have tried several different things, and my doctor has tried me on several different prescription medicines, but nothing seems to help. Does anyone have experience with this? What helps you? More info inside.
posted by alicila to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Used to help: Advil (lots of it) and direct heat (hot water bottle or heating pad) + sleeping

Now helps: Birth Control Pills. Seriously. When I was in High School, I was absent 1-2 days a month from cramps so bad I would throw up. Haven't had a cramp in ten years, since I went on the pill....
posted by anastasiav at 11:55 AM on February 26, 2004

Response by poster: My doctor currently has me on a regimen of birth control so that I only get my period four times a year. The cramps and headaches are just as bad, I just have to deal with them less frequently. He also has given me a prescription for Ponstel, which might as well be a placebo that has no effect. I've tried Aleve, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Pamabrom, and tons of other things that don't even touch the cramps, not to mention the backaches. I also get insane migraine headaches, but luckily these only last for the first day of my period. The cramps last from three to five days and this is only day one.

I just put a call in to my doctor's office asking for something else, but I fear I won't get a call back today since he is out of the office. [help!]
posted by alicila at 11:56 AM on February 26, 2004

Response by poster: anastasiav : I've been on the pill for 5 years and for whatever reason it doesn't seem to make a difference in severity of cramps for me. The only thing it seems to do is regulate my cycle and shorten the length of my preiods from what was two weeks to only 6 days (which is still too long IMO)
posted by alicila at 11:58 AM on February 26, 2004

Things I have tried in the past that have somewhat worked: yoga, Vitamin B, exercise [more than usual], cutting out caffeine and sugar almost completely, meditation, heating pads, lots of rest, warm epsom salt baths, foot rubs from well-meaning friends and, of course, sex [solo or with a friend]. You might want to investigate something more scientific like acupuncture just to deal with the cramps in sort of a chronic pain way if the cramp-relief you have been trying isn't working.
posted by jessamyn at 12:06 PM on February 26, 2004

Have you been checked for endometriosis at all?
posted by romakimmy at 12:07 PM on February 26, 2004

do you use tampons? i noticed a reduction in my cramps when i started to use the diva cup.

also, orgasms help, a lot.
posted by sugarfish at 12:19 PM on February 26, 2004

My wife had uterine fibroids. The Old Skool doctor wanted to do a full abdominal cut to clean them out. I did some reading and discovered that laproscopy was just as effective and had a faster recovery time. Afterwards her cramps were greatly reduced and she got pregnant in about 15 minutes.
posted by mecran01 at 12:22 PM on February 26, 2004

Some good suggestions here. Make sure you're getting enough calcium. And I find the only thing that even takes the edge off on the worst days is Robaxacet with codeine (available over the counter in Canada, not in the US), it has codeine, acetaminophen (Tylenol, and is also available with aspirin under the same Robaxasal) and a muscle relaxant. A couple of those, a hot bath, then a hot water bottle helps - doesn't make me pain-free, but substantially more comfortable.
posted by biscotti at 12:57 PM on February 26, 2004

Calcium and Acupuncture. (I know, I am always going on and on about the acu, but this is one area where it has been proven to be effective by western MDs.) Acu is very, very helpful for any "women's issues" such as fibroidal cists, cramps, fertility, menapause, and endometriosis.

In terms of finding an acupuncturist, the best thing to do is ask around and get references.
posted by pomegranate at 1:11 PM on February 26, 2004

I've tried all of the above, the cramps were horrid; the back pain so strong that I'd beg someone to stand on my backside to counter. Very strong headaches after the period began, which were only mildly eased by Tylenol etc.

Having tried such strong remedies to no avail, I would have laughed at the suggestion of an herbal cure. But I stumbled on it by accident. By taking 2 Tablespoons of flax oil a day, everyday throughout the month (buy it in the refrigerated section, Barlean's is very good), it virtually went away. There's the mild sensation, which doesn't even come close to being uncomfortable, as the only reminder of once was.

Supposedly the type of pain you're experiencing comes from a rapid drop of oestrogen. Flax helps to regulate the hormones.

At the beginning of a period, I'll often take a couple teaspoons of flax throughout day, during the first couple days. Also Evening Primrose Oil has been great. Taken kind of like a painkiller, two every few hours; it was also amazing in reducing cramps, but I didn't like taking it throughout the month as it made my head a bit foggy.

I hope you find relief soon.
posted by Feisty at 1:24 PM on February 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. For now at least, I'll keep calling my doctor hoping that he can provide me with a miracle pill. A few months ago I had a non-uterine fibroid removed that was near my uterus, so I'll ask my doctor about the possibility of uterine fibroids.
posted by alicila at 1:28 PM on February 26, 2004

No advice, but I hope you find something that works for you. I totally sympathize.
posted by eilatan at 2:33 PM on February 26, 2004

My best friend gets bad cramps, and for some reason when I massage the area between her heel and her achille's tendon, they ease up a bit.
posted by mischief at 2:36 PM on February 26, 2004

I'll second the flax oil, every day. Also an herbal remedy called Vitex (chaste berry extract), which does miracles for me in regulating cycles and reducing crazy-hormonal depression. I highly recommend a book by Ann Louise Gittleman called _Before the Change: Taking Charge of Your Perimenopause_. It's not just for the over-30 crowd; she has a lot of great advice that could serve you well now and for many years to come.

Unfortunately, these suggestions won't help you feel better *today* when you really need it. Hot bath, heating pad, chamomile tea, and if you can muster the energy, take a walk outdoors. I feel for you, and hope your doc comes through with some immediate relief.
posted by Alylex at 3:55 PM on February 26, 2004

In my experience, the only way to not have the cramps... is to not have a period. Hear me out.

My cramps were terrible, to the point of throwing up. I used to use hot water bottles, heating pads, lying in the shower with the water up as hot as I could stand, etc. My boyfriend was horrified when he realized how many ibuprofen I was taking a day. (It got to the point where three of them didn't make a dent in the pain, so I was taking four or more every four hours.) This would go on for at least three days. I tried the Pill but as someone else said, that really only regulated it but didn't really do much about the pain.

Then two years ago my doctor suggested Depo Provera. I did a little research* and decided it was worth a shot. (Pun intended.) My periods became progressively lighter and less uncomfortable... and after a year, they stopped entirely. I haven't had one since. I absolutely love it. Just one injection every three months, and I don't have to remember to take a pill everyday. And I spend a lot less on ibuprofen...

* Just so you don't think I'm gettin' all "Pepsi Blue" about this, I'm well aware of the horror stories about Depo on the web. Some people have really bad experiences with it. I think it's mostly a case of "squeaky wheel" though, because if the kind of side effects these women report are common, there's no way the drug would be available. My experiences have been nothing but positive.
posted by web-goddess at 4:45 PM on February 26, 2004

Not that this is probably all that practical for you at the moment, but having a baby took care of the cramp problem for me.

I also do agree with someone upthread that if you haven't already you should be checked for endrometriosis.
posted by konolia at 4:48 PM on February 26, 2004

What helped me was the prescription double-strength Anaprox (the same thing as Aleve, only way stronger -- twice as strong as the usual prescription strength). But, oddly, as I got older the problem died down a bit, and I was able to switch to the OTC Aleve or even go without sometimes.

Supposedly having a baby does help, but that's an extreme cure and I didn't try it. ;)
posted by litlnemo at 6:31 PM on February 26, 2004

Not that this is probably all that practical for you at the moment, but having a baby took care of the cramp problem for me.

woof, not me...they got much worse for me. As did the cyclical mood swings and spooky PMS...I mean spooky...Katie Kaboom kinda spooky. :)

I swear by Pamprin, orgasms, hydrocodone, xanax, heating pads and bed rest (ok...hiding under the covers...). Probably not all at the same time...

The herbal remedies intrigue me, I'll have to try them.
posted by dejah420 at 8:05 PM on February 26, 2004

I also have these issues. My cramps are so smart that if I try to take pain killers before the onslaught they just wait until I decide I have beaten them then kill me.

Water, water, water. Vitamins. Calcium. I put my warm laptop on my belly and read MeFi. No caffine. I second Pamprin or Anaprox. Sex every day or every other day (manual or two-to-tango). Muscle relaxers are the best, but you need a script for them as far as I know. My least painful ones were when I had a steady supply of those, but no more.

BC Pills just made me more PMS bitchy, no cramp relief.

Watch the Ibuprofin. Too much (esp. the gel caps) will distroy your stomach. I speak from mind blowing pain experience.

Flax seed oil? Really? I have heard of yam cream which my mom swears by (rubbed on your breasts and belly everyday), but i was never diligent enough for.

Good luck, let me know if you find something that works.
posted by jopreacher at 10:05 PM on February 26, 2004

On preview.... its funny that I couldn't do yam cream daily, but daily orgasms were no problem.. :)
posted by jopreacher at 10:06 PM on February 26, 2004

When I was younger, my cramps were bad, but not crippling. After I had my daughter, holy mother of god, they sucked. I used to take the maximum safe dose of Advil per day (which, incidentally, is 3200 mg, according to my doctor). I started back on the pill a couple of months ago and it has helped tremendously.

Not to play armchair ob/gyn or anything, though, but it sounds to me like you have either endometriosis or uterine fibroids. I have the former, my mom had the latter. She lost consciousness once from a combination of heavy bleeding and pain. Her fibroids were removed and her symptoms decreased dramatically. I'm just sayin'.
posted by bedhead at 11:10 PM on February 26, 2004

The only thing that really helps my partner with her cramps is a hot pad, or applied heat of some kind.

A quick note about Depo-Provera: It made one of my ex-girlfriends crazy for four months. Like, seriously needing-to-be-in-a-hospital kind of crazy. Also, my mother went on it, miscarried during month 2, and is unable to have any further children.
posted by Jairus at 12:23 AM on February 27, 2004

I'm a boy, so I don't get cramps. But, I do get migraines, so I've spent my entire life looking for that special pill to kill pain. One drug that work on some people really well - and on others not at all is Ketoprophen. It's the only thing I can take that is guaranteed to get rid of my migraines - most other drugs can do no more than take the edge off of them, but this stuff gets rid of them. Best thing about it is that it's over the counter.

The only brand name I've seen it under is "Orudis kt". It's in a green box with some yellow highlights, usually found in the painkiller section of your favorite drugstore. On the east coast CVS carries it, on the west coast, your best bet is Longs drug store. (I just moved from the west coast to the east and had to find the store that carries it....)

And like I said - for some people it works, for others it does nothing. If you do want to give it a try and you're in serious pain when you do, take THREE of them. Ignore the recommended dosage. I've done the research, 3 of them, which amounts to 37.5mg is perfectly safe for most people (the pills are only 12.5 mg each). In clinical trials they shot people up with 125mg at a time without much in the way of side effects, so taking 38mg on a bad cramp day is not going to hurt you and may well turn you into a happy person. And finally - one of my favorite things about them, is that unlike many stronger pain medications Ketoprophen does NOT impair you in any way that I've noticed.

Of course....IANADoctor....
posted by jaded at 10:00 AM on February 27, 2004

Migraines can be a food intolerance, typically wheat or corn (corn syrup). If you get the visual auras or some sign that one is coming on, magnesium to bowel tolerance (loose bowels and then cut back a bit) may work wonders.
posted by Feisty at 10:38 AM on February 27, 2004

My wife had bad cramps as a teen/young adult. Then she went on The Pill. She stopped having periods at all, and thus stopped having cramps. It's been nearly twenty years now, and the doctors -- her's is a female doctor, if that matters to you -- have uniformly been unworried about the cessation of menustration.

So I'm going to recommend what a couple others have recommended: quit having periods. Go on The Pill or Depo or whatever, and don't take the no-treatment week.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2004

Ibuprofen, definitely. I've heard that it's a prostaglandin inhibitor, and thus is somehow better for cramps than acetaminophen, but I can't remember why. My doctor told me I could take three at a time. I hope that it's not going to have any adverse effects on my stomach.

I have also heard of people taking Vioxx for cramps. I'm considering trying it.
posted by transona5 at 3:05 PM on February 27, 2004

Be aware that a number of the things suggested here are hormones in the guise of herbal/food remedies. Flax (as well as soy, block cohosh, red clover) has estrogenic properties; "yam cream" is either a source of unmetabolizable genitsen or contains progesterone (depending on what its actual ingredients are); evening primrose oil may affect prostaglandins. Unless you know what your hormones are doing at the time of your pain (yours--not the usual graphs), messing with your hormone balance is random and more likely to make things worse than better. Our ovarian hormones do many many things in the body, interacting with many systems; for every effect you choose to elicit, many more follow along that can be anything from miserable to wholly alarming. If you need to mess around with your hormones, there are also things like aromatase inhibitors and hormone antagonists that quash, rather than over-ride, them. These are strong measures.

The suggestion to look into endometriosis is good. You might consider, if you have not done so, consulting a pelvic pain specialist for mapping and/or a workup by an endocrinologist (hormone specialist). Getting some better sense of your pathology--what exactly is responding so violently to what sounds like estrogen spikes--may help you better target your options.
posted by salt at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2004

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