Can Ibuprofen Really Help With a Heavy Period Flow?

The limited research available has shown NSAIDs can reduce menstrual bleeding—and that it comes with risks.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
January 21, 2020, 8:57pm
tampons menstruation menstrual health
Photo by Emilija Manevska via Getty Images

Menstruation pretty much point-blank sucks, and, as of now, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to why that is. A dearth of factual, accessible education about relieving period issues has naturally led people to crowdsource and share tips on reducing cramps and flow, including one suggestion that recently gained attention on Twitter: using ibuprofen as a way to reduce menstrual bleeding, not just physical discomfort.

Twitter user @girlziplocked cited Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden, in which Briden mentions ibuprofen as a solution to heavy periods five separate times and calls it “a simple and practical solution for heavy bleeding,” saying, "The conventional anti-inflammatory medication ibuprofen (Advil or Nurofen) reduces menstrual flow by half.” (Emphasis Briden’s.)

Can ibuprofen actually reduce menstrual bleeding? Yes, thanks to its ability to reduce levels of prostaglandins, hormones that help the body shed uterine lining by inducing muscle contractions. Increased prostaglandin presence has been linked to severe menstrual cramping and heavier bleeding, albeit in a 1983 study. Research has shown that all nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, like ibuprofen can reduce menstrual bleeding in the same fashion, although other sources cite a 20 to 40 percent bleeding reduction with ibuprofen, versus the 50 percent reduction figure stated by Briden and reiterated in the tweet above.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, ibuprofen can even delay menstrual bleeding for a few days—if taken at higher-than-recommended, potentially toxic doses. “[Delaying a period for a few days] would require a higher dose than any over-the-counter bottle recommends: about 800 milligrams of ibuprofen, every six hours, or 500 milligrams of naproxen, three times a day,” OBGYN Rebecca Russell said in a post on the clinic’s blog. “This would have to be done very regularly.” Since NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen have been linked to kidney and blood pressure issues at those higher doses, experts say this kind of regimen is more of a first step than a permanent solution (which Period Repair Manual acknowledges) and should be avoided if a person has one off a number of other health conditions, including other bleeding disorders, ulcers, or liver and kidney diseases.

If heavy menstrual bleeding (and all the fun and games that come with it) is a persistent issue, talk to a doctor to find a safe, long-term solution. Sophia Yen, clinical associate professor of adolescent medicine at Stanford Medical School, recommended a few alternatives for reducing or skipping periods, including getting on a combined hormonal birth control pill, a progestin-only pill, or looking into a hormonal IUD. She also said that taking 600 milligrams of ibuprofen three times a day with food for up to five days could be a temporary fix for heavy bleeding.

Menstrual health isn’t universally taught in health classes in U.S. public schools (kids are too busy learning how having sex makes God mad!) or taken adequately seriously by medical researchers on a broad scale: The most recent review of studies looking at whether NSAIDs reduce menstrual blood flow cites research from the 80s and 90s and pegs its evidence quality as low to moderate, thanks, in part, to “imprecision resulting from small study numbers.”

It’s true that this information about ibuprofen and periods is searchable—but that's only if you know to look for it in the first place. Until safe solutions for menstrual health issues are prioritized by researchers and communicated effectively to people with periods, I guess we’ll always have Twitter—a grim thought, and a compelling argument for institutions to do better.

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