In a WH poll, you divulged details of your menstrual health highs and lows – and now we’re offering solutions. It’s time to take back “that time of the month”.
“I cry during soppy ads.”– Carol-Ann N.
Drama alert! The change of mood associated with PMS can include feelings of anxiety, depression, irritability and anger. “For most women this is a temporary inconvenience, but if it negatively affects your relationships or work, you may need advice on medication if it means keeping your partner or your job,” says Dr Tamlyn McKeag, a family practitioner from Cape Town. Another option is to try revamping what’s on your plate: regularly loading up on leafy greens and whole grains can help keep your blood sugar – and emotions – steady.
“I get period headaches.” – Sharon H.
Migraines are thought to be caused by a sudden decrease in oestrogen premenstrually. Some women are more susceptible to these changes than others and, unfortunately, the oral contraceptive pill may aggravate the problem. If minor lifestyle changes, like avoiding triggers such as caffeine,for example, don’t work, try taking a combo of an OTC anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen – the active ingredient in Nurofen – and a prescription migraine pill as soon as your symptoms start.
Still hurting? Consider a visit to a dietician or neurologist, says Manasri Naiker, an obstetrician gynaecologist at Kingsbury Hospital in Cape Town.
“I feel as if I could sleep for a week.” – Trisha L.
No, you’re not just a sloth. Any time you lose blood, you lose iron, an energising mineral. “Tiredness or fatigue is a very non-specific symptom,” says McKeag. “Many people suffering from psychiatric disorders such as depression or anxiety also complain of fatigue, so the association with mood changes is well-known.” She recommends maintaining a good sleep routine, exercise and good eating habits. Keep well-hydrated and limit intake of sugar, salt, caffeine and alcohol. “B vitamins can assist in elevating energy levels and magnesium and calcium are possibly helpful too,” McKeag advises. To up those iron levels, include more iron-rich munchies in your diet, such as spinach, beans and lentils.
“My sex drive goes through the roof right before my period!” – Letricia O.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a problem… but it is a medical mystery. Typically, the randiest time of the month occurs during ovulation, about a week before PMS starts, when you’re likeliest to conceive. And, while plenty of studies suggest PMS should lower libido, many women report the exact opposite. Some experts theorise that women may feel more psychologically liberated when their chances of getting knocked up are lower. And, physically, orgasms are known cramp relievers. Or, maybe, it’s just that during this time we crave extra TLC and seek out the intimacy that comes with sex.
“I have cramps that feel like I’m giving birth to the spawn of Satan.” – Millarie K.
There’s a reason it feels a little like you’re in labour – your uterine muscles are contracting. They’re on a mission to dislodge the uterine lining – that gunky stuff you see on its way out. Typically, these contractions, aka cramps, are spurred on by prostaglandin hormones – the higher the levels you have, the worse you feel. Using a heating pad for 10 to 15 minutes can help dilate uterine blood vessels, picking up circulation and flushing out prostaglandins faster. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise each day can also up your heart rate and blood flow. If over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers aren’t helping and you’ve exhausted all natural options – including yoga and acupuncture – see your gynae. Severe cramps can also be caused by uterine fibroids, dysmenorrhoea, endometriosis or other genetic conditions. The first line of treatment is typically the Pill or another hormonal contraceptive, which can reduce your overall amount of uterine tissue.
“I just feel generally awful – fat, miserable and unsatisfied.” – Mercia T.
New research out of the US suggests that some of these woes could be lessened with a calcium supplement. Women aged 18 to 45 who suffer from moderate to intense PMS symptoms were given a 1200mg calcium supplement. After three months, feelings of misery were reduced by 45 percent, water retention by 36 percent, and cravings and pain reduced by 54 percent each compared with the control group.
“My nipples become really sensitive. Sooo uncomfortable when I’m working out!” – Sarah S.
Sad but true: along with the extra breast volume can come extra tenderness and, once again, it’s those fluctuating hormone levels that are to blame – in this case, rising progesterone. Some women also experience fluid retention, which can aggravate tender breasts. A well-fitting – but not tight – bra can go a long way towards easing the ouch and try not to sleep on your stomach. Anti-inflammatory meds such as ibuprofen can offer some relief, says McKeag. A more natural alternative: “Evening primrose oil helps with breast tenderness and nipple sensitivity,” says Naiker. “And cotton bras are the best for nipple sensitivity.”
“The bloating is horrible – it’s like this massive pressure.” – Laura H.
Some 73 percent of women reported unpleasant gut symptoms before and during their periods – particularly bloating during PMS – yet, surprisingly, no one knows for certain what causes this monthly fluid retention (hormones almost certainly have a role to play!). That said, what we do know is that alcohol and salt make water retention worse, so steer clear of them if you’re swelling up like an Oros woman. As for easing the symptoms, exercise and a nutritious diet are first prize – aim for four to six small meals a day rather than two or three large ones. In severe cases of fluid retention, some women need to take a diuretic, says McKeag.