Know the basics
What are period cramps?
Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen. Many women experience menstrual cramps just before and during their menstrual periods.
How common are period cramps?
Period cramps are extremely common. It affects women at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of period cramps?
The common symptoms of period cramps are:
- Throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen that may be severe;
- Dull, constant ache;
- Pain that radiates to your lower back and thighs;
- Feeling of pressure in the abdomen.
Besides, you could feel some below symptoms if period cramp is severe:
- Upset stomach, usually with nausea;
- Loose stools;
- Headache/ Dizziness.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if menstrual cramps disrupt your life every month, if your symptoms progressively worsen or if you’re older than 25 and just started having severe menstrual cramps. However, if you’ve started menstruating within the past few years and have menstrual cramps, chances are your menstrual pain isn’t a cause for concern.
Know the causes
What causes period cramps?
During your menstrual period, your uterus contracts to help expel its lining. Hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) involved in pain and inflammation trigger the uterine muscle contractions. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more severe menstrual cramps.
Severe contractions may constrict the blood vessels feeding the uterus. Pain results when part of a muscle briefly loses its supply of oxygen.
Menstrual cramps may also be caused by:
- Endometriosis: in this painful condition, the tissue that lines your uterus becomes implanted outside your uterus, most commonly on your fallopian tubes, ovaries or the tissue lining your pelvis.
- Uterine fibroids: these noncancerous growths in the wall of the uterus may be the cause of pain.
- Adenomyosis: in this condition, the tissue that lines your uterus begins to grow into the muscular walls of the uterus.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): this infection of the female reproductive organs is usually caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.
- Cervical stenosis: in some women, the opening of the cervix may be so small that it impedes menstrual flow, causing a painful increase of pressure within the uterus.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for period cramps?
There are many risk factors for period cramps, such as:
- You’re younger than age 30.
- You started puberty early, at age 11 or younger.
- You have heavy bleeding during periods (menorrhagia).
- You have irregular menstrual bleeding (metrorrhagia).
- You’ve never given birth.
- You have a family history of dysmenorrhea.
- You’re a smoker.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How are period cramps diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. During the pelvic exam, your doctor will check for any abnormalities in your reproductive organs and look for signs of infection.
If your doctor suspects that your menstrual cramps are being caused by an underlying disorder, he or she may recommend other tests, such as:
- This test uses sound waves to create an image of your uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
- Other imaging tests. A CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides more detail than an ultrasound and can help your doctor diagnose underlying conditions.
- Laparoscopy usually isn’t necessary for the diagnosis of menstrual cramps, but it can help detect an underlying condition, such as endometriosis, adhesions, fibroids, ovarian cysts and ectopic pregnancy.
How are period cramps treated?
- Pain relievers: your doctor may suggest taking some pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), at regular doses starting the day before you expect your period to begin. Prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as mefenamic acid (Ponstel), also are available. If you can’t take NSAIDs, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may lessen your pain. Start taking the pain reliever at the beginning of your period, or as soon as you feel symptoms, and continue taking the medicine as directed for two to three days, or until your symptoms have gone away.
- Hormonal birth control will prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. These hormones can also be delivered in several other forms: an injection, a patch you wear on your skin, an implant placed under the skin of your arm, a flexible ring that you insert into your vagina, or an intrauterine device (IUD).
- Surgery: if your menstrual cramps are caused by an underlying disorder, such as endometriosis or fibroids, surgery to correct the problem may help reduce your symptoms. Surgical removal of the uterus also may be an option if you’re not planning to have children.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage period cramps?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with period cramps:
- Exercise may ease the pain of menstrual cramps.
- Heat: soaking in a hot bath or using a heating pad, hot water bottle or heat patch on your lower abdomen may ease menstrual cramps. Applying heat may be just as effective as over-the-counter pain medication for relieving menstrual cramps.
- Dietary supplements: vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1 (thiamine), vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplements may effectively reduce menstrual cramps.
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco because these substances can make menstrual cramps worse.
- Reducing stress to decrease your risk of menstrual cramps and their severity.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Your Guide to Menstrual Cramps. http://www.webmd.com/women/menstrual-cramps#2. Accessed September 22, 2016.
Menstrual cramps. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/basics/definition/con-20025447. Accessed September 22, 2016.
Review Date: September 29, 2016 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019