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Dysmenorrhoea is painful cramps originating in the uterus just prior to or during menstruation. It can be primary (i.e. without any organic pathology) or secondary (i.e. associated with a pathological condition, such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts). The pain usually lasts between 8 and 72 hours.

Recent systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) found that acupuncture is effective for primary dysmenorrhoea, providing significantly more pain relief than pharmacological treatments. The most compelling evidence comes from a large, high-quality German trial that also found acupuncture to be cost-effective. 

period pain

Acupuncture treatment may help reduce symptoms of dysmenorrhoea by:

  • regulating neuroendocrine activities and the related receptor expression of the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovary axis

  • increasing nitric oxide levels, which relaxes smooth muscle and hence may inhibit uterine contractions

  • increasing relaxation and reducing tension. Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels and increasing endorphins  and neuropeptide Y levels, which can help to combat negative affective states

  • stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord.

  • reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors

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