Can Birth Control Be a Dysmenorrhea Treatment?

Help for Bad Menstrual Cramps

Relief for Dysmenorrhea
Relief for Dysmenorrhea. Anna Bizon/Getty Images

What is Dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is the medical term used for when you have painful menstrual cramps that occur immediately before or during your period. The pain can be so bad that it limits your daily activities. Dysmenorrhea is the most commonly reported menstrual disorder. It can affect up to 90% of young women. The Pill (as well as other hormonal contraceptives) can help in the treatment of dysmenorrhea.

The Cause of Dysmenorrhea:

Really painful menstrual cramps are triggered by the release of prostaglandins -- these are natural substances that are made by cells in the inner lining of the uterus (and other parts of your body). Prostaglandins that are made in the uterus cause your uterine muscles to contract. This helps to shed the built-up uterine lining during your monthly period. If your uterus makes too much prostaglandin, dysmenorrhea can occur.

Can Birth Control Help as a Possible Dysmenorrhea Treatment?

The answer to this question is yes! Besides preventing you from getting pregnant, certain birth control can actually provide non-contraceptive benefits as well. Some hormonal contraceptives have been shown to lower the pain associated with dysmenorrhea. So birth control can provide help if you suffer from bad menstrual cramps.

What is the Best Birth Control for Dysmenorrhea?

Hormonal birth control is easy to use and effective.

It can also help to treat painful menstrual cramps. The following is a list of the prescription birth control methods that have been shown to be helpful in relieving some of the pain associated with dysmenorrhea:

  • Combination Birth Control Pills: These pills contain both estrogen and progestin. Combination pills can help relieve bad menstrual cramps because they block the production of prostaglandin. Combo birth control pills have been shown to relieve dysmenorrhea in up to 70–80% of women.
  • NuvaRing: NuvaRing works in the same way that combination pills do. So using the NuvaRing can also help to ease menstrual cramp discomfort. In research studies, the NuvaRing was also shown to reduce the pain caused by dysmenorrhea from 17.4% to 5.9% (that's some major relief!).
  • Nexplanon: Nexplanon is a contraceptive, progestin-only implant. It appears that the use of Nexplanon can reduce dysmenorrhea in most women as well. One study reported that the number of women who suffered from dysmenorrhea went from 59% to 21% while using Nexplanon. Other research shows that 81% of women who reported a history of dysmenorrhea before using Nexplanon showed improvement while using this contraceptive implant.
  • Mirena IUD: There is not a lot of data on using the Mirena IUD for for dysmenorrhea treatment.  We do know that after Mirena is inserted, this IUD can reduce or completely eliminate monthly periods for many women -- so, in theory, having less or no periods should make menstrual cramps less likely to occur.
  • The Patch: The contraceptive patch also works like combination birth control pills. Because of this, the patch can help to decrease the pain of dysmenorrhea and menstrual cramps as well.

As quick side note: we know that dysmenorrhea is caused by excess prostaglandins that are released during your period. Since extended cycle birth control pills can reduce or completely get rid of your period, they should also provide you relief from dysmenorrhea pain. You can also lessen painful menstrual cramps by skipping your period.

A Disclaimer About Using Birth Control to Help with Dysmenorrhea:

It is also important to point out that the main reason to use hormonal contraception is for birth control. Because women may react differently to specific birth control methods, this information is meant to be a general overview. That being said, if you do suffer from painful menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea, it wouldn't hurt for you to ask your doctor about some of these birth control methods and their possible non-contraceptive benefits.

Sources:

Croxatto HB. "Clinical profile of Implanon: a single-rod etonogestrel contraceptive implant." Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care 2000;5(suppl 2):21–8. Accessed via private subscription.

Funk S, Miller MM, Mishell DR Jr, Archer DF, Poindexter A, Schmidt J, et al. "Safety and efficacy of Implanon, a singlerod implantable contraceptive containing etonogestrel. Implanon US Study Group." Contraception 2005;71:319–26. Accessed via private subscription.

Hendrix SL, Alexander NJ. "Primary dysmenorrhea treatment with a desogestrel-containing low-dose oral contraceptive." Contraception 2002;66:393–9. Accessed via private subscription.

Jamieson DJ, Steege JF. "The prevalence of dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, pelvic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome in primary care practices." Obstet Gynecol 1996;87:55–8. Accessed via private subscription.

Milsom I, Lete I, Bjertnaes A, Rokstad K, Lindh I, Gruber CJ, et al. "Effects on cycle control and bodyweight of the combined contraceptive ring, NuvaRing, versus an oral contraceptive containing 30 microg ethinyl estradiol and 3 mg drospirenone." Hum Reprod 2006;21:2304–11. Accessed via private subscription.

Varma R, Sinha D, Gupta JK. "Non-contraceptive uses of levonorgestrel-releasing hormone system (LNG-IUS)—a systematic enquiry and overview." Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 2006;125:9–2. Accessed via private subscription.

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