Every woman has experienced a painful menstrual period at least once. In fact dysmenorrhea or painful periods affect between 40 to 90 percent of women and is the most common gynecology disorder. No one is quite sure what causes painful periods but according to a new study stress may be a contributing factor.
|Manage Your Stress:|
1. Learn what stresses you and become aware of your emotional and physical reactions.
2. Eliminate or avoid the stresses when possible. It you can’t avoid or eliminate can you reduce the stress or shorten your exposure?
3. Change your outlook. Put the stress in perspective and try to see it as something you can cope with.
4. Relax and breathe. A few deep breaths can help you stay calm, bring your heart rate back to normal and reduce muscle tension.
5. Look after yourself. Get enough sleep and get fit. Proper exercise and nutrition can help you deal with stress.
6. Develop a support system of friends and relatives. Spending time with family and friends reduces stress. Remember to be your own best friend.
The study, published in the December 2004 issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, analyzed a total of 1,160 menstrual cycles. Dr. Xiaobin Wang, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and her team studied 388 female textile workers in Anqing City, Anhui Province, China, who were newly married and aged between 20 and 34. None of the women had a child, but wanted to become pregnant.
Each women was asked to keep a daily diary tracking stress levels, rating them as low, medium or high, especially during their shifts where they were exposed to varying levels of noise, dust and workloads. Those women who had high stress levels (44 percent) had the most painful periods as opposed to those with low stress levels (22 percent), who had no problems. Dr. Wang also found that stress in the first two weeks of the cycle (follicular phase) contributed much more to a painful period than stress in the second half of the cycle (luteal phase). Those who experienced medium or high levels of stress during the entire menstrual cycle were more than six times likelier to report painful menses in their next menstrual cycle.
While the study confirms what doctors and some women have suspected for years, it couldn’t determine how exactly stress translates into painful periods. "We can only speculate," Dr Wang said. "Stress has been linked to a variety of other [adverse] health outcomes. Stress can affect hormone levels, for example by producing more progesterone and prostaglandins." Prostaglandins act as chemical messengers within individual cells stimulating muscle contractions and higher levels can bring on cramping. "It is suggested that stress reduction may be one way to help this common condition," Dr. Wang told Reuters Health.
Dr. William A. Growdon, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles pointed out that "it's hard to write a prescription for stress reduction, since different people have different responses to stress and people have different tolerances for pain." Growdon emphasized that painful periods are also easily treated with birth control pills that regular hormones or with ibuprofen that inhibits prostaglandin production. Wang recommended stress reduction programs that target reproductive-aged women, particularly those with a history of painful menses. Such programs "may be considered as possible preventive strategies to reduce the occurrence of dysmenorrhea, as well as the resulted absenteeism and reduced work productivity," Wang and her team wrote in the study.