Skin Patch Can Ease Menstrual Cramps
June 22, 2000 -- As many as 50% of all women of childbearing age suffer from
menstrual cramps each month. Now, research suggests that a new medicated skin
patch can offer around-the-clock relief to these women.
Reporting their findings in the International Journal of Obstetrics and
Gynecology, an international research team found that the patch, which is
worn on the lower abdomen and releases a form of nitroglycerine, stops the
uterine contractions known to cause menstrual cramps.
The muscles of the uterus, like all muscles, contract and relax. Most
uterine contractions are never noticed, but strong ones can be painful. Women
who have cramps during their periods, a condition called dysmenorrhea, may also
experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, weakness, and/or
Many women take painkillers every two to four hours, including non-steroidal
anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to prevent or treat
their cramps. But the new patch delivers medication over 24 hours, the study
authors write, "theoretically allowing for prolonged protection from
pain." Many patches similar to the ones used in the study are already on
the market for treating heart problems.
Eighty-eight women from six countries wore the patch for two menstrual
cycles and wore a placebo, or inactive, patch during one cycle for the first
three days of each cycle. The study found the medicated patch was more
effective than the placebo, and participants used less painkillers when wearing
the active patch, the researchers write. Before the study began, 83% of the
women had said their menstrual pain was severe and 92% said it required
treatment with painkillers.
While painkillers work by inhibiting chemical substances known as
prostaglandins, which are chemicals produced by the lining of the uterus that
can cause powerful muscle contractions, the new patch releases nitric oxide
into the bloodstream, which halts the actual contractions. Studies have shown
that the patch is also helpful in treating pre-term labor.
Some women report gastrointestinal upsets when they take NSAIDS. Another
advantage of the patch is that patients would have the option to control their
own treatment by simply removing the patch when no longer necessary or in the
event of side effects, the study authors write. And the patch is not without
side effects: 26% of the women experienced headaches while using it.
"There is no reason to suffer from menstrual cramps in the year
2000," Donnica Moore, MD, president of the Sapphire Women's Health Group in
Neshanic Station, N.J., tells WebMD. Moore was not involved in the study.
"The first step for women with dysmenorrhea is usually to try
over-the-counter NSAIDS such as Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin," she says.
"Patients who have tried over-the-counter NSAIDs and haven't gotten relief
may need a larger dose or a prescription NSAID.