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Should I Take Birth Control For My Painful Cramps? 

SimpleHealth
SimpleHealth
Published: March 7, 2021Updated: March 16, 2021

If your period cramps are the kind that have you in the fetal position for a full week, or if you’ve regularly had to call in sick to work in order to spend quality time with a heating pad, you’re not alone. Over eighty percent of people who menstruate have some sort of pain for a couple of days each month. While that pain is usually pretty manageable, around 5-10% of people have period pain that’s much more severe. 

Sound familiar? If you experience pain during your periods, there are ways to make it less intense. Here’s how birth control can make your periods less painful.

What is dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is the fancy word for any pain associated with your period, although it’s most often reserved for really bad pain. Along with severe pain during your period, people with dysmenorrhea might also have nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, or dizziness.

And all dysmenorrhea isn’t created equal. There are two types: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is the cramping that happens right before or during your period, and it’s most common among teenagers and young people who are earlier in their menstruation years. It comes from natural chemicals called prostaglandins, which make the muscles and blood vessels of the uterus contract. As your uterine lining sheds, prostaglandins levels get progressively lower—so while your pain level might start out at an 7, it typically falls over the course of your period. 

Secondary dysmenorrhea is different in that it comes from some sort of reproductive organ disorder, like endometriosis, fibroids, or adenomyosis. It’s also more typical in people in their mid twenties or later. Secondary dysmenorrhea lasts longer than primary dysmenorrhea and may not go away fully once the period ends. 

How do you treat period pain? 

Luckily, primary dysmenorrhea isn’t difficult to treat. Your doctor will likely prescribe a hormonal contraceptive to help manage the pain.

Here’s why that helps. Remember those prostaglandins we talked about earlier? Well, birth control pills are thought to reduce your levels of prostaglandins, which in turn reduces blood flow and cramping. Plus, birth control prevents ovulation, thus preventing any cramping related to that process. 

Your doctor might recommend that you take the pill cyclically—so, 21 days on, seven days off. Or, she might recommend that you take it continuously, so you’d skip your period totally. Both methods have been shown to reduce period pain, but taking the pill cyclically can lead to some breakthrough bleeding or cramping. For this reason, taking the pill continuously may have a bigger impact in reducing painful cramping in the short term.

Secondary dysmenorrhea can also be treated by going on the pill, since the underlying conditions (like endo) are also improved by taking the pill. In addition, some lifestyle changes or relaxation techniques can help relieve period pain, wherever it comes from. Try gentle yoga, wearing loose-fitting clothes, or cozying up on the couch with a hot water bottle and your favorite rom-com for pain relief during your period.

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