It is not yet clear what causes primary dysmenorrhea, but the pain is the result of hyper-production of uterine prostaglandins. These prostaglandins cause the uterus to have higher amplitude contractions and are at the highest levels at the beginning of the period. Their increased production is caused by the rapid drop in progesterone levels just before the period begins.
Western medical treatment includes pain management through the use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, which blocks the production of the prostaglandins thus stopping the pain. If the NSAIDs do not work on their own, then oral birth control is often added to help manage the condition. However, prolonged use of birth control to treat primary dysmenorrhea is one of the parameters that might lead to a later diagnosis of endometriosis. With this in mind – coupled with the effect that NSAID use can have on the digestive system – finding other ways to treat dysmenorrhea can be helpful to avoid possible future health issues.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been used successfully for centuries to treat women’s issues, including dysmenorrhea. From a TCM perspective, there are different causes or patterns of imbalance in the body that lead to dysmenorrhea. Once the correct pattern of imbalance is identified by the practitioner, the appropriate acupuncture points and herbal formulas can be prescribed to start treating the root of the problem and thus alleviate the pain. With this treatment, the focus is placed on finding the underlying cause and treating it instead of simply trying to manage the symptom.
Acupuncture treatments are usually on a schedule of once a week for the first four to eight weeks and then spaced out once the pain is under control. Herbs would be prescribed on the first or second treatment and modified or adjusted as needed as the underlying pattern progresses. Patients typically take the herbs twice a day and have few side effects, if any at all. The treatment may include dietary changes to bring the body back into balance and avoid any lifestyle choices that may be contributing to the underlying imbalance.
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