Can Ibuprofen Really Reduce Your Period Flow?

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen might be able to do more than just relieve cramps during your period.

If you've ever crowdsourced period relief advice online (no, you're not the only one with period butt pain), you may have heard the rumor that ibuprofen can reduce menstrual flow. Or maybe you recall the viral tweet on the subject that racked up hundreds of replies from people saying they had never heard of the connection. (Same, TBH.)

But is this piece of period advice medically sound, or is it nothing more than an internet rumor that everyone with a period merely hopes is true? Here, doctors break down the science behind the claim.

Taking Ibuprofen to Lessen Period Flow

Turns out, the internet is right about this one: Ibuprofen (and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs) can indeed reduce heavy period flow, says Sharyn N. Lewin, M.D., a board-certified gynecologic oncologist.

Here's how it works: NSAIDs work by reducing the body's production of inflammatory elements such as prostaglandins, according to USC Fertility. "Prostaglandins are lipids that have diverse, hormone-like effects" on the body, such as inducing labor and causing inflammation, among other functions, explains board-certified ob-gyn Heather Bartos, M.D.

Prostaglandins are also produced when endometrial cells begin to shed in the uterus, and it's believed that prostaglandins are largely responsible for those all-too-familiar cramps that come with menstrual bleeding, explains Dr. Bartos. Higher prostaglandin levels translate to heavier menstrual bleeding and more painful cramps, she adds.

So, taking ibuprofen can not only help to ease cramps, but it can also reduce heavy period flow — all by causing a decrease in the rate of prostaglandin production from the uterus, explains Dr. Lewin.

Okay, But Is It Safe?

While this might seem like an appealing way to deal with a heavy, crampy menstrual cycle, there's a lot to consider before jumping on this bandwagon. Here's what you need to know.

First and foremost, touch base with your doc to make sure it's safe for you to take high doses of ibuprofen — for any reason. Once you get that all clear, the recommended dose to reduce heavy period flow is between 600 and 800 milligrams of ibuprofen once a day, starting on the first day of bleeding. This is an admittedly "high dose" for most people taking an NSAID for general pain relief, notes Dr. Bartos. This daily dose can be continued for four or five days, or until menstruation stops, says Dr. Lewin.

Keep in mind: Ibuprofen won't totally eliminate period blood flow, and the research backing the method is super limited. A 2013 review of studies assessing the management of heavy menstrual bleeding, published in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, suggests that taking NSAIDs may reduce bleeding by 28 to 49 percent for those who experience a heavy period flow (the reviewed studies didn't include any people with moderate or light bleeding). A more recent review published online in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that NSAIDs are "modestly effective" at reducing heavy menstrual bleeding, noting that other medicines commonly used to alleviate heavy period flow — including IUDs, tranexamic acid (a drug that works to help blood effectively clot), and danazol (a drug commonly used to treat endometriosis) — are "more effective."

"As long as you don't have any contraindications to taking [NSAIDs], it can be a short-term fix [for a heavy period flow]," says Dr. Bartos, adding that she's seen "effective" results in her own patients who use this method. "There are limited studies on its exact effectiveness in terms of data, but anecdotally I've seen good success," she explains.

TL;DR — While taking ibuprofen to reduce heavy period flow isn't necessarily a foolproof method, it could be a good option for those who experience occasional (rather than chronic) heavy menstrual bleeding and cramping.

Who Should Consider Using NSAIDs to Reduce Heavy Period Flow

Heavy period flow can be a symptom of several health conditions, including endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), among others. With that in mind, it's important to talk to your doctor about your experience with heavy menstrual bleeding to confirm whether ibuprofen is the right option for you, advises Dr. Bartos.

"Certainly for women with endometriosis, in which prostaglandin levels are high, periods are long and heavy and cause immense cramps — NSAIDs are a great treatment, especially for women wanting a non-hormonal option" to help reduce bleeding, explains Dr. Bartos. But again, there are also prescription medications, such as tranexamic acid, that can reduce heavy period flow more safely and more effectively, she adds. "Hormonal options like the birth control pill or the Mirena IUD are (also) more effective than high doses of NSAIDs, especially long-term," adds Dr. Lewin.

As for how to delay your period with ibuprofen or other NSAIDs: "Ibuprofen has not been studied in delaying your period," but theoretically it's possible that taking these intermittent high doses "could delay [your period] for a very brief time," explains Dr. Bartos. (Specifically, the Cleveland Clinic reports that NSAIDs may delay your period "for no more than a day or two," if at all.)

Remember: Long-Term NSAIDs Use Can Have Consequences

There's another major issue to consider here: namely, how long-term NSAIDs use, in general, can affect your health. For most people, using NSAIDs such as ibuprofen to reduce heavy period flow is only meant to be done "once in a while," not as a long-term strategy for heavy menstrual bleeding, according to the Cleveland Clinic. When used long-term, NSAIDs can potentially increase your risk of kidney issues and stomach ulcers, among other health issues, says Dr. Bartos.

Bottom line: "If heavy periods are a long-term issue, we'll often discuss a progesterone IUD or something created for long-term use," says Dr. Bartos. "Ibuprofen won't fix any problem, but it's a great reliever for heavy, crampy cycles," she adds.

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