Menstrual cramps can range from annoying to debilitating. During a period, the uterus contracts to help your body expel the lining. The Mayo Clinic explains that prostaglandins — or hormone-like substances that trigger contractions — are involved in pain and inflammation, so the higher the levels of these cursed substances in the body, the more severe the resulting menstrual cramps will be.
Lucky are those women who get pain-free periods. A few of those lucky women might roll their eyes or make snarky comments about coworkers who call out sick on day one or two of a particularly painful period. Any of you who doubt that the pain can possibly be that bad should consider this comparison made by many experts, according to the Mayo Clinic — namely that the pain caused by severe uterine contractions is similar to the pain caused by angina, which in turn occurs when blocked coronary arteries prevent oxygen from reaching portions of the heart. Ouch? Ouch.
Menstrual cramps may also be caused by medical conditions, including endometriosis, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, pelvic inflammatory disease or cervical stenosis.
So say your cramps are pretty bad, and they start right smack in the middle of a pretty hectic workday. There you are, working on a database while writhing in pain in your chair, hoping nobody notices. Going home isn’t an option — neither is telling your boss you just got your period and would like to die. You could take ibuprofen or other NSAID-class drugs round the clock trying to stifle, and then stay ahead of, the pain, but not everyone feels comfortable with going that route. What do you do?
Here are three tips to follow to help ease the pain.
Unfortunately, if you have bad cramps, don’t drink that coffee you just got at your usual morning haunt. In fact, take a pass on anything with caffeine. It constricts blood vessels, which worsens cramps. Drink some chamomile tea instead. It has anti-inflammatory properties that, depending on the severity of your cramps, may help ease the pain.
The idea here is to get the blood flowing, and while the pain you feel at your desk may be intense, you may well find that even a walk from your desk to the bathroom may ease the tension. As soon as the cramps make you double over, get up and walk to the photocopier, to the bathroom, to the break room, wherever. Just move.
Heat is essential, so apply some heat. You probably don’t have a hot water bottle at work. Consider keeping a small towel at work, too, because you can wet it and microwave it and use as a substitute for a hot water bottle. Even more discrete than all that, and thus easier to keep and use in the office, are disposable heating wraps. The heat lasts for a few hours. You may end up feeling sweaty, but the heat will ease that pain. Put one on and sip that chamomile tea. Consider investing in a little electric fan.
If you find that the menstrual cramps are making you tap out and you feel like you must take some ibuprofen, then be sure to take the recommended amount as often as directed, not exceeding the maximum dose. And be careful with drug interactions. Some people recommend vitamin supplements, such as vitamin E, as well as herbs and minerals, to alleviate menstrual cramps. In an article for WebMD, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, with Christine Larson, explains that vitamin E and some herbal remedies should never be combined with ibuprofen and other NSAID-class drugs. Mixing ibuprofen and vitamin E, for example, may prompt uncontrolled bleeds.
Have an orgasm. Go on, you just finished your workday while suffering through horrible cramps, so you’ve more than earned it. Orgasms help the uterus relax. No time to cramp up and contract angrily when you’re flooding your body with the ultimate aaaaah. Don’t be shy, either. Oprah says it’s okay.