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Heat Therapy for Menstrual Cramps & Period Pain

The medical term for menstrual cramps is dysmenorrhoea and it is a common problem, especially for women in their teens and early twenties. Estimates for the prevalence of dysmenorrhoea range from 50% to 90% of menstruating women. The causes of primary dysmenorrhoea are unclear, but may be related to the build up of prostaglandins at the end of the menstrual cycle which causes increased uterine contractions. Secondary dysmenorrhoea is a symptom of a medical condition.

The Incidence of Dysmenorrhoea in Young Women

Age appears to be a factor in menstrual cramps with the highest incidence of primary dysmenorrhoea occurring in women who are in their teens and early twenties. The frequency and severity of cramps tends to lessen with age and most women report that cramps lessen or stop following child birth. The severity of menstrual cramps varies between individuals and cramps are considered severe if the disrupt a women's life 2 to 4 days a month.

Secondary Dysmenorrhoea

Secondary dysmenorrhoea is a symptom of a medical issue which should be treated by a doctor. Possible causes of secondary dysmenorrhoea may include ovarian cysts, endometriosis, uterine disease, pelvic inflammation, the use of birth control devices, irritation cause by tampons, fibroids and tumours. More than 70% of menstrual cramps are due to primary dysmenorrhoea, but a recent worsening of pain or pain that extends beyond the end of a period should be reported to a doctor.

Diagnosing Primary Dysmenorrhoea

Women who have severe cramps which disrupt their lives for 2 or more days each month should see a doctor to rule out other medical conditions. The diagnosis of primary dysmenorrhoea is made by ruling out possible medical causes for menstrual cramps. If no medical explanation for the cramps is found, reducing weight, increasing physical exercise and treatment with heat therapy such as with wheat bags or microwavable hot bottles can help reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.

Treatment of Primary Dysmenorrhoea with Heat Therapy

One of the oldest and most effective treatments for menstrual cramps is to lie down with the feet and legs elevated and apply heat to the lower abdomen. Microwave heat pads or wheat bags can be used for heat therapy. The warmth is believed to relax muscles which eases the pain of menstrual cramps. Microwave heat pads, hot bottles and wheat bags provide an inexpensive, reusable, holistic and efficacious treatment for menstrual cramps.

Preventing Menstrual Cramps

Patients who are obese or live a sedentary lifestyle report a higher incidence of severe menstrual cramps than women who eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Doctors believe that physical inactivity and obesity may contribute to severe menstrual cramps. Losing weight and increasing physical exercise may help to lessen the symptoms of primary dysmenorrhoea, but it will not completely prevent menstrual cramps. 

Although there are many treatments for the pain of menstrual cramps most involve the use of chemical products which may have side effects. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be effective at relieving the pain of menstrual cramps. Unfortunately, there are often adverse side effects that may cause long term problems. Hormonal contraceptives, or birth control pills, are also commonly prescribed. There are side effects to these, as well, and women who are over the age of the 35 and that smoke are advised not to take birth control pills long term. Heat therapy is a time honoured, holistic treatment which has no side effects, either in the short or long term. Stress is thought to contribute to menstrual cramps and relaxing with a heat pad or hot bottle can relieve both stress and pain.

Heat therapy is a good choice for relieving the pain and discomfort from menstrual cramps. The Mayo Clinic has reported that heat therapy may be just as effective at relieving the menstrual cramps as medications are, but without the side effects. Heat therapy, such as a microwavable wheat bag and heat pads, can help relieve cramps for several hours. It helps increase circulation, which brings oxygen and vital nutrients to the tissues in and around the uterus and ovaries.