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Skin Patch Can Ease Menstrual Cramps

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WebMD Health News

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 fainting.

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.

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