The Pill Cuts Down on Menstrual Pain

Oral contraceptives can ease menstrual cramps

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A lot of women cope with severe menstrual cramps every month. If you battle painful periods, a recent study says the most effective treatment is the pill.

Swedish doctors studied women with dysmenorrhea, a condition characterized by painful periods and severe menstrual cramps. They concluded that that women who take combined oral contraceptives have reduced menstrual pain after five years.

"Ask your OB/GYN if oral contraceptives will reduce your menstrual pain."

Combined oral contraceptives (COC) contain two hormones, estrogen and progestin. They are the most popular form of birth control out today.

The long-term University of Gothenburg study looked at approximately 1,500 young women that were divided into three groups: those were born in 1962, 1972 and 1982. Each woman was 19 years old when enrolled into the study.

At the start of the program, each woman was given a questionnaire about contraceptive use, the severity of their menstrual cramps and other symptoms of dysmenorrhea, how it affected their daily life, and use of painkillers to alleviate symptoms. Five years later, at age 24, the women completed the questionnaire again.

This study used a verbal scoring system that rated pain in the following categories: none, mild, moderate and severe.

The researchers found that COC-using women saw a pain reduction of 0.3 units, which means that one in three women dropped a category on the pain scale.

The researchers also found that women who gave birth experienced reduced dysmenorrhea pain.

Another finding: Women experienced lesser menstrual pain as they aged.

The findings show that COCs can help ease dysmenorrhea, but other studies should be conducted using both COCs and a placebo, says study researcher Dr. Ingela Lindh and colleagues in the paper.

Dysmenorrhea is a common condition and can occur before or during the menstrual period. The condition is divided into two types, based on the severity of the condition: Primary dysmenorrhea is common menstrual cramps, while secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by a disorder in a woman’s reproductive organs.

Symptoms of dysmenorrhea include dull, throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen and pain that extends to lower back and thighs. Many women also experience nausea, vomiting, loose stools, sweating and dizziness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

This observational study was published in the journal Human Reproduction and funded by grants from the Gothenburg Medical Society and other groups.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 20, 2012
Last Updated:
January 24, 2012