Women's Health

Irregular Menstruation

Your menstrual cycle occurs as the result of a complex hormonal interaction involving your brain, ovaries, and adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands. If anything interferes with this delicate hormonal balance, you may experience irregular or absent periods. If you have irregular periods or your periods have stopped (amenorrhea), you should see your gynecologist or medical doctor for a more thorough investigation.

There are many possible causes of secondary amenorrhea and irregular periods, including:

  • Stress. Mental stress can temporarily alter the functioning of your hypothalamus — an area of your brain that controls the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle. Ovulation and menstruation may stop or become irregular as a result. Regular menstrual periods usually resume after your stress decreases.
  • Medication. Certain medications can cause menstrual periods to stop. For example, antidepressants, antipsychotics, some chemotherapy drugs, and oral corticosteroids can all cause amenorrhea.
  • Illness. Chronic illness may postpone menstrual periods by delaying ovulation. Menstruation typically resumes once you recover.
  • Hormonal imbalance. A common cause of amenorrhea or irregular periods is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition causes relatively high and sustained levels of estrogen and androgen, a male hormone, rather than the fluctuating levels seen in the normal menstrual cycle. This results in a decrease in the pituitary hormones that lead to ovulation and menstruation. PCOS is associated with obesity, amenorrhea or abnormal -- often heavy -- uterine bleeding, infertility, acne, and sometimes excess facial hair.
  • Low body weight. Excessively low body weight interrupts many hormonal functions in your body, potentially halting ovulation. Women who have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, often stop having periods because of these abnormal hormonal changes.
  • Excessive exercise. Women who participate in sports that require rigorous training, such as ballet, long-distance running, or gymnastics, may find their menstrual cycle interrupted. Several factors combine to contribute to this loss of
 periods in athletes, including low body fat, stress, and high energy expenditure.
  • Thyroid malfunction. An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) commonly causes menstrual irregularities, including amenorrhea. Thyroid disorders can also cause an increase or decrease in the production of prolactin — a reproductive hormone generated by your pituitary gland. An altered prolactin level can affect your hypothalamus and disrupt your menstrual cycle.
  • Pituitary tumor. A noncancerous (benign) tumor in your pituitary gland (adenoma or prolactinoma) can cause an overproduction of prolactin. Excess prolactin can interfere with the regulation of menstruation. This type of tumor is treatable with medication but it sometimes requires surgery.
  • Uterine scarring. Asherman's syndrome, a condition in which scar tissue builds up in the lining of the uterus, can sometimes occur after uterine procedures, such as a dilation and curettage (D and C), Caesarean section, or treatment for uterine fibroids. Uterine scarring prevents the normal buildup and shedding of the uterine lining, which can result in very light menstrual bleeding or no periods at all.
  • Premature menopause. Menopause usually occurs between ages 45 and 55. If you experience menopause before age 40, it's considered premature. The lack of ovarian function associated with menopause decreases the amount of circulating estrogen in your body, which in turn thins your uterine lining (endometrium) and brings an end to your menstrual periods. Premature menopause may result from genetic factors or autoimmune disease but often no cause can be found.
  • Pregnancy. In women of reproductive age, pregnancy is the most common cause of amenorrhea.

  • Contraceptives. Some women who take birth control pills may not have periods. When oral contraceptives are stopped, it may take 3-6 months to resume regular ovulation and menstruation. Contraceptives that are injected or
implanted, such as Depo-Provera, also may cause amenorrhea as can 
progesterone-containing intrauterine devices such as Mirena.
  • Breast-feeding. Mothers who breast-feed often experience amenorrhea. Although ovulation may occur, menstruation may not. Pregnancy can result despite the lack of menstruation.
  • Chinese medicine is extremely effective at treating the underlying conditions that disrupt the menstrual cycle.
    According to Chinese medicine, a “healthy” menstrual cycle:
  • Is about 29 days (we follow the moon)
  • Is regular (+/- one or two day every month)
  • Flows 3-7 day
  • Has a fresh red blood color (not purple, black, or too pale pink)
  • Is of average consistency (not watery or thick like molasses)
  • Is of average flow (not overly light or very heavy)
  • Has no clots

Acupuncture is the traditional Chinese method of placing extra-thin needles at strategic energy points on your body to improve functioning and promote natural healing. Acupuncture is frequently used to help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce stress, and improve blood flow to the pelvic area and uterine lining.

Herbal therapy is an essential treatment modality for gynecological conditions (including infertility) in Chinese medicine, and provides an important compliment to acupuncture. While acupuncture stimulates the flow of Qi and blood, herbal formulas are designed to nourish and replenish deficiencies in the metabolic, endocrine, and immune systems.

Studies have shown that herbal formulas may

  • Regulate menstrual cycles
  • Alleviate endometriosis pain
  • Thicken an unresponsive endometrium
  • Restore normal menstruation in patients with amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea

Chinese herbal formulas are safe and effective when prescribed by your Chinese medicine practitioner.

Painful Period

Most women have experienced menstrual cramps, or "dysmenorrhea," at one time or another.  Menstrual cramps are dull, throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen and are often experienced just before and during a period. For some women, it is merely an annoying discomfort but for others, it can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities for a few days every month. 

In many situations, there is no identifiable cause of dysmenorrhea. Many experts believe that constricted blood vessels during the period cause menstrual cramps, much in the way that angina occurs when blocked coronary arteries starve portions of the heart of food and oxygen. Most of the time painful menstruation is not considered a cause for concern and western medical treatment usually involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or hormonal birth control to manage the symptoms of dysmenorrhea.

In Chinese medicine, dysmenorrhea or painful periods are not considered a normal part of a woman's life but rather a sign of an imbalance, which can be treated effectively in order to resolve the symptoms. As with western medical theory, Chinese medicine sees a lack of flow of blood and qi-energy as the cause for menstrual cramps. Whereas western medicine sees menstrual cramps as all belonging to the same class of problem, Chinese medicine breaks it down into six different types, depending on the internal imbalance causing the symptoms. Factors that can contribute to dysmenorrhea include emotional strain, prolonged exposure to cold and dampness, overwork or chronic illness, and childbirth.

Acupuncture can be quite successful in the treatment of dysmenorrhea. Treatments can help to relieve symptoms very quickly, however it typically takes at least 3 cycles to get the body back into balance and fully resolve the problem. A real positive of acupuncture is that it is working to promote health while also managing and resolving the symptom. It’s very common to see other areas of health improve, such as energy levels, sleep, moods and stress levels, and pre-menstrual symptoms. Indeed, acupuncture is an excellent option for treating and resolving menstrual cramps.

PMS

Each women’s cycle is unique. Some women barely noticed when their period comes and goes. For others, however, their period can be a monthly ordeal with mood swings, weight gain, painful cramps, and heavy bleeding. The range of symptoms that correspond with monthly cycles is called premenstrual syndrome or PMS.

In the West, these symptoms are often thought to be a normal part of the menstruation. In Chinese medicine, however, PMS is considered to be the result of an underlying imbalance or deficiency.

A healthy period according to Chinese medicine:

Is regular - every 26 to 31 days
Is free of cramps, bloating, breast tenderness and headache
Has adequate flow (neither scanty nor excessively heavy) that lasts for 3-5 days
Has bright red blood flow free of clots (in Chinese medicine, clots are a sign of stagnation)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name of a group of symptoms that may begin up to 14 days before your menstrual period. The symptoms usually stop once your period begins. Symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion or fuzzy thinking
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in libido
  • Cravings, especially for salty or sweet foods
  • Alcohol intolerance
  • Acne
  • Abdominal and pelvic cramps
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Breast swelling and pain
  • Heart pounding (palpitation)
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Urinary problems

Premenstrual dysphonic disorder is a more extreme version of PMS.

 

The most common explanation for PMS, from a Western point of view, is that it's an imbalance between your two main reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and/or a disruption in the feedback system that regulates your reproductive hormones. Researchers feel that that some women’s brain are more sensitive to these hormones and that PMS symptoms occur because your brain overreacts to progesterone and estrogen causing changes in the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Estrogen and progesterone can alter:

  • Serotonin: these changes may cause depression and carbohydrate cravings.
  • GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid): this neurotransmitter is important for feeling calm.
  • Endorphins: the good hormones that influence the experience of pain and pleasure.
  • Norepinephrine: influences mood and plays a role in blood pressure and heart rate.

Menopausal Syndrome

Menopause doesn't have to be a dreaded curse of aging during which we can look forward only to hot flashes and whacked-out hormonal mood swings. Menopause often marks the beginning of a woman's most sexually passionate, creatively inspired, and professionally productive phase of life.
While this may sound like wishful thinking, examine how a woman's lifestyle, emotions, and beliefs are affected by menopause. With the right diet, attitude, and Oriental Medicine women can actually look forward to a resurgence of energy and a revolutionary opportunity for personal growth--one that rivals the hormonally driven period of adolescence.Menopause itself is not a disease. 

Menopause is a transitional period marking the cessation of ovulation in a woman's body. This time of change may last a few months to several years. Symptoms vary from mild to severe, and are brought on as our bodies try to adapt to decreasing amounts of estrogen. Symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings, memory loss, vaginal dryness, headaches, joint pain, and weight gain.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a 2,000 year old, professional medical system, and gynecology is one of it specialties. Within TCM gynecology, menopausal syndrome is a recognized and treatable condition. In fact, it is one of the conditions that are most easily and satisfactorily treated by TCM (as long as menopause is natural and not surgical). 

According to Chinese Medical theory, menopause occurs when a woman's body begins to preserve blood and energy in order to sustain her vitality and allow for the maximum available nourishment for her body, especially her kidneys. The kidney is the organ Chinese Medicine sees as the root of life and longevity. Therefore, the body, in its wisdom, reserves the flow of a channel in the center of the body which sends blood and energy down to the uterus. Instead, blood and essence from the kidneys are conserved and cycled through the body to nourish the woman's spirit and extend her longevity. Thus, in Chinese medicine, menopause is seen as a true change in life from mother of biological children to mother of the community. This is why, in traditional cultures, post-menopausal women are regarded as wise women, since their heart spirit is now nourished and enlightened in a way it was not before. However, unfortunately, many women do not traverse this cusp quickly and smoothly. Rather, they get stuck in the middle of this change. When they do, they may experience any of a number of signs and symptoms.  

Few areas of women's health stir up as much confusion and debate as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which is normally started when the first symptoms of menopause appear. While they may alleviate hot flashes and prevent osteoporosis, they will also increase the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, and have a number of significant side-effects. But HRT isn't the only solution. Menopause is an area in which Oriental Medicine shines. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have the ability to detect energetic changes that occur in the body and quickly relieve symptoms such as hot flashes, foggy mind, and irritability.

Traditional Chinese Medicine does not recognize menopause as one particular syndrome. Instead, it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. Therefore, if 10 women are treated with Oriental medicine for hot flashes, each of these 10 women will receive a unique, customized treatment with different acupuncture points, different herbs and different lifestyle and diet recommendations.

Menopause patients are encouraged lose that extra weight and to follow a diet with a high content of raw foods, fruits and vegetables to stabilize blood sugar. Some foods may exacerbate hot flashes or increase mood swings. Steer clear of dairy products, red meats, alcohol, sugar, spicy foods, caffeine, and don't smoke. Lastly, try to eliminate stress, tension and anxiety or learn techniques to cope with stress so that you can diminish the effects that it has on your body and mind.