Most women have painful menstrual cramps
(dysmenorrhea) from time to time. Menstrual cramps are one of the most common
reasons for women to seek medical attention. The pain from menstrual cramps can
range from mild to severe and can involve the lower belly, back, or thighs.
You may also have headaches, nausea, dizziness or fainting, or diarrhea or
constipation with your cramps.
During the menstrual cycle, the
lining of the
uterus produces a hormone called
prostaglandin. This hormone causes the uterus to
contract, often painfully. Women with severe cramps may produce
higher-than-normal amounts of prostaglandin, or they may be more sensitive to
Cramping is common during the teen years, when a young woman
first starts having periods. Primary
dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful
menstrual cramping with no recognized physical cause. It is seen most commonly
in women between the ages of 20 and 24. It usually goes away after 1 to 2
years, when hormonal balance occurs.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is a
term used to describe painful menstrual cramping caused by a physical problem
other than menstruation. Physical problems that can cause this type of cramping
- A condition in which cells that look and act like
the cells of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) are found in other parts of
the abdominal cavity (endometriosis) or grow into the
muscular tissue of the uterine wall (adenomyosis). Pain usually occurs 1 to
2 days before menstrual bleeding begins and continues through the period.
- Growths in the pelvis that are not cancerous (benign growths),
ovarian cysts, cervical or uterine
Pelvic infections. Your risk for developing an infection is higher after
menstrual bleeding has begun because the opening to the uterus (cervical canal)
widens during menstruation. But pelvic infections, especially those caused by
sexually transmitted infections, can occur at any
- Using an
intrauterine device (IUD). An IUD may cause increased
cramping during your period for the first few months of use. If menstrual
cramping persists or gets worse, you may need to consider having the IUD
removed and choosing another birth control method.
- Problems with
- Structural problems that were
present at birth (congenital), such as narrowing of the lower part of the
uterus that opens into the vagina (cervix).
Menstrual-type cramps may occur after a medical procedure,
such as cautery, cryotherapy, conization, radiation, endometrial biopsy, or IUD
Other menstrual symptoms, such as weight gain, headache,
and tension, that occur before your period begins, can be caused by
premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For more information, see
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
- Menstrual Cycle: Dealing With Cramps
Try the following home treatment to
help manage your menstrual cramps:
- Use heat, such as hot water bottles, heating
pads, or hot baths, to relax tense muscles and relieve cramping. Be careful not
to burn yourself.
- Drink herbal teas, such as chamomile, mint,
raspberry, and blackberry, which may help soothe tense muscles and anxious
- Exercise. Regular workouts decrease the severity of cramps.
For more information, see the topic
- Empty your bladder as soon as you
have the urge to urinate.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
| Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Acetaminophen, such as
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
such as Advil or Motrin
- Naproxen, such as Aleve or Naprosyn
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
| Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
- Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
- Do not take more than the
- Do not take a medicine if you have had an
allergic reaction to it in the past.
you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take
- If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other
than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
- You become pregnant.
- Pain is
- Menstrual cramps are lasting
longer than your period.
- Other symptoms develop, such as fever.
- Symptoms become more severe
You may be able to prevent menstrual
- Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of
fruits and vegetables and is low in fat. Limit your intake of alcohol,
caffeine, salt, and sweets. For more information, see the topic
- Begin or maintain a
moderate exercise schedule. For more information, see the topic
- Reduce stress in your life.
Although stress does not cause menstrual cramps, reducing stress can make your
symptoms less severe. For more information, see the topic
- Do not smoke or use
other tobacco products.
yoga. Both therapies teach relaxation
acupuncture or acupressure.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
- What were the dates of your last two menstrual
- If you are a teen, do you have regular
cycles, such as a period every 21 to 45 days?
- If you are an adult,
do you have regular cycles, such as a period every 21 to 35
- If you have been through
menopause, how long ago was your last menstrual
- Has your menstrual flow been
heavier bleeding than usual?
- What is your
- Is it regular, with approximately the same
number of days in between periods?
- Is it irregular? What is the
range from the longest to the shortest time interval between your
- What method of
birth control do you use? It is especially important
to tell your doctor if you use an
intrauterine device (IUD).
- Have you done a
home pregnancy test? If so, when did you do the test
and what was the result?
- Have you been under increased
psychological or physical stress?
- Have you recently gained or lost
more than 10 pounds for no known reason?
- What prescription and
nonprescription medicines are you taking?
- How does your pain
differ from your typical menstrual cramps?
- Do you engage in
high-risk sexual behaviors?
- Do you have
Abdominal Pain, Age 11 and Younger
Abdominal Pain, Age 12 and Older
Female Genital Problems and Injuries