This past weekend, my jaw dropped when I read a tweet by @girlziplocked that said ibuprofen reduces menstrual flow by 50 percent. I certainly did not know that ibuprofen helps reduce the actual volume of shed menstrual blood—I only thought it helped with cramps.
I learned that ibuprofen reduces menstrual flow BY 50% and the only reason I can come up with for why no one else knows about this is that we’re such a fucking misogynist culture, we can’t talk about something that women have to deal with every four weeks for 30 years.
— holly (@girlziplocked) January 19, 2020
So then, when I saw that ob-gyn and Twitter personality Dr. Jen Gunter replied to the thread, adding that she’s been preaching about this fact for a while, I was PISSED.
— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) January 21, 2020
Why had I not heard of this before? Who has been keeping these secrets from me?
To triple confirm, I reached out to some ob-gyns for the receipts on just how effective ibuprofen is for reducing your flow. The verdict: Ibuprofen does reduce blood flow during your period.
Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, or NSAID, which reduces the amount of blood loss by causing a decline in the rate of prostaglandin synthesis in the lining of the uterus, explains ob-gyn Eduardo Hariton, MD. The decline in prostaglandin synthesis leads your blood vessels to constrict, which reduces bleeding. (BTW, prostaglandins also cause period poops.)
‘Results are unique to each woman, but I’d say, on average, a woman may experience 30 percent less bleeding if she takes 800 mg of ibuprofen (four over-the-counter pills) three times a day, ideally starting right before or when her period starts,’ adds Heather Beall, MD, an ob-gyn with Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital.
Obviously, that sounds like a lot of meds, and anything in excess is not good. Going overboard and taking too much ibuprofen or any other NSAID could lead to gastrointestinal side effects as well as other adverse effects, notes Dr. Hariton. (Taking ibuprofen with food may help lessen these though.)
And yes, if just decreasing blood flow is your main concern, ibuprofen is not the most effective. A 1991 study found that another NSAID called mefenamic acid can reduce blood flow by 25 to 50 percent, says Dr. Hariton. But mefenamic acid is only available via prescription and is not the default NSAID most doctors prescribe because ibuprofen is more easily accessible, and even then, there are simply better, more effective options out there, according to Dr. Hariton.
In other words, ibuprofen is like the ‘first line of defence’ for unwanted period symptoms, says Dr. Beall. But for more seriously heavy flows, birth-control pills can help decrease the amount of bleeding (which is why you may also have fewer cramps too). In any case, check with your doctor before starting a new medication (even if it’s over the counter) to make sure you’re a good candidate for it.
Honestly? I had to haphazardly see this on Twitter—and confirm it with three experts—to get the facts. The idea that all of this isn’t common knowledge is disappointing. Women should be hearing this from their own doctors, because if I knew that my periods could be lighter by popping a few ibuprofen, I’d definitely be more inclined to pack Advil with me.
This post originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com.
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