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Mind + Body, July 2011

Published on: June 28, 2011

Women experiencing painful periodsRed alert

News about pain and periods
Add this to the “Can’t Catch a Break” file. If you experience pain during your period, you may be more susceptible to pain during the rest of the month, too.

In the journal Pain, researchers at Oxford University reported that the brains of women with painful periods showed activity similar to those of patients with chronic pain — as well as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, another symptom of patients with chronic pain. In other words, even though a woman’s menstrual pain might last only a few days, her body reacts as if the pain is chronic.

During the study, the researchers applied hot pads to the inner arm and abdomen of 12 women with painful periods, and to those of 12 without, while they were undergoing an MRI scan. They compared brain responses to the pain of the hot pads at three points during the women’s cycles and found that the women who experienced period pain were more sensitive to the stimulus. Even when the women weren’t having period pain, their brains processed pain differently.

Dr. Katy Vincent, a clinical lecturer in the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Oxford University, said that painful periods — although common — aren’t always treated adequately because so many women experience them. But because painful periods can actually alter a woman’s brain processing, the condition should be taken seriously.

July’s list

Stress busters
Women still try, if not to do it all, at least to manage it all. That can lead to mega-stress. So how can we learn to deal with all that tension? It’s easy to say, “Just chill.” Here are some real tips to try:

1. Learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, and practice them regularly.
Stress buster tips for women2. Chat — real talk, not Twitter talk — with a good friend. Share stories, support and empathy.
3. Eat healthy meals. That means more cantaloupe and cranberry juice, less candy and cola.
4. Take a break. Even 10 minutes with a good book (we don’t care if it’s paper or digital) can lift your spirits.
5. Get some sleep. That poses a challenge if you have an infant in your house. Try to lock in some consecutive z’s by heading for bed early.
6. Think happy thoughts. Wallowing in your anxieties and overthinking problems just keep your brain buzzing. Focus on the good things that happen during the day.
7. Stop and smell the roses. OK, we know you’ve heard that one before. But it works.
8. Appreciating nature — and the stunning, mysterious world around you — generates a natural high.

—Kris Collingridge

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