Women's Health: Painful Periods (dysmenorrhea)
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Most painful periods occur in the absence of any underlying pathology. Common symptoms include cramping lower abdominal pain, often radiating to the back and legs, sometimes accompanied by diarrhoea, vomiting and extreme tiredness. The pain can be so severe that some women faint. The most commonly prescribed medications for period pain are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (e.g Mefenamic Acid), the oral contraceptive pill and medication to control the bleeding (e.g. tranexamic acid); these all carry the risk of side effects. Period pain is a common gynaecological problem with many women have to take at least one day off work a month; this has far reaching consequences for the economy as well as the woman’s personal finances, and daily life activities.

Treatment with Chinese Medicine

Patients will normally be given treatment over three menstrual cycles. In addition, patients will often be given lifestyle and dietary advice to help to alleviate the symptoms and also to prolong the benefits of the treatment.

Research

A randomized controlled trial in 2008 carried out by Dr Witt and colleagues at Charite University Medical Center in Berlin reported positive results: nearly three times more women receiving acupuncture compared with those that were not receiving the therapy report showed symptom relief. A total of 201 women took part in the study and were randomly assigned to acupuncture or no treatment. After three months of treatment, which included an average of about 10 sessions, the average pain score was 3.1 in the acupuncture group, compared with 5.4 in the control group, using a pain scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain. Among women given acupuncture, 63.4 percent reported at least a 33 percent improvement in their symptoms, while 24 percent of women in the control group did.

Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that ”acupuncture should be considered as a viable option in the management of these patients.”

Reference: Witt CM, Reinhold T, Brinkhaus B, Roll S, Jena S, Willich SN (2008) Acupuncture in patients with dysmenorrhea: a randomized study on clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in usual care. American Journal of Obstetrics Gynecology Feb;198(2):166.e1-8.

Another study by Steinberger and Slagoski 1980 tested a treatment protocol to address severe pain with or without severe vomiting. Patients were treated daily for the five days prior to the presumed onset of one menstrual cycle. Satisfactory results were obtained in more than 80% of cases, 58% experienced a complete relief from symptoms, with benefits maintained for at least 6 months after treatment.

Reference: Acupuncture Research Resource Centre (1999) Gynaecology and Acupuncture: the evidence for effectiveness. Briefing Paper No4.

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