If you’ve ever sought out advice for relieving menstrual symptoms online (no, you’re not the only one experiencing discomfort in the buttocks during your period), you may have come across the rumor that ibuprofen can decrease the amount of menstrual flow. Alternatively, you may recall the tweet that went viral on this topic, generating numerous responses from individuals who had never heard of this connection before. Personally, I can relate to that sentiment.
But is this advice regarding periods supported by medical evidence, or is it nothing more than an internet rumor that individuals with periods desperately want to be true? In this article, medical professionals will explain the science behind this claim.
Using Ibuprofen to Reduce Menstrual Flow
As it turns out, the internet is correct in this case: Ibuprofen (along with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly known as NSAIDs) can indeed decrease heavy menstrual flow, according to Sharyn N. Lewin, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist who is board-certified.
Here’s how it works: NSAIDs work by reducing the body’s production of inflammatory substances, such as prostaglandins, as stated by USC Fertility. “Prostaglandins are lipids with a variety of hormone-like effects” on the body, including inducing labor and causing inflammation, among other functions, explained Heather Bartos, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist.
When endometrial cells in the uterus begin to shed, prostaglandins are also produced. It is believed that prostaglandins are mostly responsible for the cramps that accompany menstrual bleeding, according to Dr. Bartos. Higher levels of prostaglandins result in heavier menstrual bleeding and more painful cramps, she added.
Therefore, taking ibuprofen can not only alleviate cramps but also decrease heavy menstrual flow by reducing the rate of prostaglandin production from the uterus, as explained by Dr. Lewin.
Alright, but is it safe?
Although this may seem like an appealing method to manage a heavy and cramp-filled menstrual cycle, there are several factors to consider before jumping on this bandwagon. Here’s what you need to be aware of.
First and foremost, it is crucial to consult your doctor to ensure that it is safe for you to take high doses of ibuprofen, regardless of the reason.
Once you obtain that complete approval, the suggested quantity to diminish substantial period flow is ranging from 600 to 800 milligrams of ibuprofen on a daily basis, commencing on the initial day of bleeding. This is unquestionably a “substantial dose” for the majority of individuals consuming a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug for overall pain alleviation, according to Dr. Bartos. This everyday dosage can be sustained for four or five days, or until the cessation of menstruation, as explained by Dr. Lewin.
Keep in mind: Ibuprofen won’t completely eliminate the flow of blood during menstruation, and the research supporting this method is extremely limited. A 2013 review of studies evaluating the management of intense menstrual bleeding, published in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, suggests that taking NSAIDs may decrease bleeding by 28 to 49 percent for individuals who experience heavy menstrual flow (the reviewed studies did not include anyone with moderate or light bleeding). A more recent review published online in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that NSAIDs are “moderately effective” in reducing heavy menstrual bleeding, noting that other medications commonly used to alleviate heavy flow, such as IUDs, tranexamic acid (a medication that aids in blood clotting), and danazol (a medication often used to treat endometriosis), are “more effective.”
“As long as you don’t have any contraindications to taking [NSAIDs], it can be a temporary solution [for heavy menstrual flow],” says Dr. Bartos, adding that she has observed “effective” results in her own patients who utilize this method. “There is limited research on its precise effectiveness in terms of data, but anecdotally, I have seen positive outcomes,” she explains.
TL;DR — While using ibuprofen to lessen heavy menstrual flow is not a foolproof method, it could be a viable choice for those who experience occasional (rather than chronic) intense bleeding and cramping.
Who Should Consider Using NSAIDs to Reduce Heavy Period Flow
Intense menstrual flow can be a symptom of various health conditions, including endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), among others. Bearing that in mind, it is important to discuss your experience with heavy menstrual bleeding with your doctor to confirm whether ibuprofen is the appropriate choice for you, advises Dr. Bartos.
“Certainly for women with endometriosis, in whom prostaglandin levels are elevated, periods are lengthy and heavy, and cause extreme cramping — NSAIDs are an excellent treatment, particularly for women who desire a non-hormonal option” to help reduce bleeding, explains Dr. Bartos. However, there are also prescribed medications, such as tranexamic acid, that can decrease heavy menstrual flow in a safer and more effective manner, she adds.
Hormonal alternatives such as the contraceptive pill or the Mirena intrauterine device are (additionally) superior to elevated amounts of NSAIDs, particularly in the long run,” mentions Dr. Lewin.
As for how to postpone your menstruation with ibuprofen or other NSAIDs: “Ibuprofen has not been researched in delaying your period,” but theoretically it’s possible that taking these intermittent high doses “could postpone [your period] for a very brief time,” explains Dr. Bartos. (Specifically, the Cleveland Clinic reports that NSAIDs may postpone your period “for no more than a day or two,” if at all.)
Remember: Consequences of Long-Term NSAIDs Use
There’s another significant matter to consider here: specifically, how long-term usage of NSAIDs, in general, can impact your health. For most individuals, utilizing NSAIDs such as ibuprofen to decrease heavy menstrual flow is only meant to be done “occasionally,” not as a long-term approach for heavy menstrual bleeding, according to the Cleveland Clinic. When used over an extended period, NSAIDs can potentially enhance your risk of kidney problems and stomach ulcers, among other health issues, says Dr. Bartos.
Bottom line: “If heavy periods are a prolonged problem, we’ll often discuss a progesterone IUD or something designed for long-term use,” says Dr. Bartos. “Ibuprofen won’t resolve any problem, but it’s an excellent reliever for heavy, crampy cycles,” she adds.
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