High-tech patch could help tackle painful periods

More than half of women of childbearing age suffer from period pain every month
More than half of women of childbearing age suffer from period pain every month

A PATCH worn on the stomach that generates 1,000 pain-killing pulses per second could make menstruation less miserable for women. Worn around the clock during a period, the wafer-thin patch has been shown to cut pain levels by more than 70% and, now, the NHS has set up trials.

More than half of women of childbearing age suffer from stomach cramps for two to three days a month. The pain is caused by the womb tightening and relaxing to help encourage the? lining of the womb to detach – a process that happens each month as part of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

If the womb contracts too strongly, it can press against nearby blood vessels, temporarily cutting off the supply of blood and oxygen. Starved of oxygen, the womb releases chemicals that trigger pain.

Less commonly, period pain, called dysmenorrhoea, can be caused by an underlying medical condition. These include endometriosis – where pieces of the tissue that lines the womb grow elsewhere in the body, including on other pelvic organs, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes – as well as infections and uterine fibroids (non-cancerous growths).

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, can help with mild to moderate pain, and stronger, prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are also available.

The contraceptive pill can be taken to thin the lining of the womb, making it easier to shed and so reducing the strength of the contractions.

If menstrual cramps are caused by endometriosis or fibroids, surgery to correct the problem might help.

However, an estimated one in 10 women still experiences high levels of pain. It is hoped that the four-inch circular, stick-on patch from US medical device manufacturer BioElectronics will help provide pain relief.

The battery-operated patch – known as Allay – can be worn for 24 hours a day for five days, before being peeled off and charged up ready to use again. When switched on, a small electric current passes through a wire loop in the patch, generating an undetectable magnetic field that pulses into the abdominal tissue.

Its maker claims this triggers the cells to pump out excess fluid, reducing bloating, pain and swelling associated with dysmenorrhea.

The same kind of electromagnetic pulse therapy has been used for osteoarthritis knee pain and post-operative pain, where it is thought to work by blocking pain signals along the nerves.

Sixty women who have painful periods are taking part in a two-month trial at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust.

Research by the manufacturer, as yet unpublished, has shown that the patch can be effective, with pain levels falling by 31% on the first day of wear and by 63% by day five.

Overall, 77% of the women had a drop in pain compared with 14% in the control group.

Consultant gynaecologist Elias Kovoor says: "Treatments for dysmenorrhoea include pain killers and hormonal options such as the contraceptive pill. These are very effective and have the advantage of reducing bleeding. Unfortunately, side-effects are common, especially the? hormonal ones, which limits their use in many patients.

"This patch seems attractive, as it’s devoid of any hormonal side-effects, but further clinical trials are mandatory to assess its safety and efficacy before adoption into routine practice."

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