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Menstrual Cycle: Dealing With Cramps


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Most women have painful cramps from their period from time to time. The good news is that you can usually relieve cramps with over-the-counter medicine and home treatment.

Key points

  • Pain medicine and home treatment can help ease cramps.
  • Stay ahead of the pain. Take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen (Advil, for example) as soon as you feel cramps or on the day before you get your period.

Return to topic:

Menstrual cramps usually begin right before or at the start of your period. They can cause mild to severe pain in your lower belly, back, or thighs. Some women also have headaches, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, dizziness, or fainting.

Test Your Knowledge

Menstrual cramps can cause mild to severe pain.

True
False

During your menstrual cycle, the lining of your uterusClick here to see an illustration. produces a hormone called prostaglandin. This hormone causes the uterus to contract, or tighten, which can cause cramping. Women with severe cramps may have higher-than-normal levels of this hormone, or they may be more sensitive to it.

Most women have painful menstrual cramps from time to time. Cramps are more common in the teen years and early 20s. This cramping usually goes away in a few years when the hormone levels even out. But some women in their 30s and 40s still get cramps during their periods.

Sometimes menstrual cramps are caused by a health problem not related to having your period, such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. To treat these kinds of cramps, you need to treat the health problem that is causing them.

Test Your Knowledge

Menstrual cramps are often caused by hormone changes.

True
False

Over-the-counter pain medicine and home treatment are often all you need to ease your cramps.

Medicine

  • Try anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain. Ibuprofen (such as Advil) and naproxen (such as Aleve) may work better than aspirin.
  • Stay ahead of the pain. Pain medicine works better if you take it before the pain gets bad.
    • Start taking the recommended dose of the pain medicine as soon as you start to feel cramping, or on the day before your period starts.
    • Keep taking the medicine for as long as you have cramps.
  • Try acetaminophen (Tylenol) if anti-inflammatory medicine does not help.
  • Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Do not take aspirin if you are younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.

Home treatment

  • Put a heating pad (set on low) or a hot water bottle on your belly, or take a warm bath. Heat improves blood flow and may ease the pain.
  • Lie down and put a pillow under your knees, or lie on your side and bring your knees up to your chest. This may help relieve back pressure.
  • Use pads instead of tampons. This may help if you also have vaginal pain.
  • Get regular exercise. This helps blood flow and may reduce cramping.

Talk to your doctor if you have tried to manage your cramps with medicine and home treatment but you do not feel better. If your cramps are caused by a health problem not related to your period, such as endometriosis, you may need other treatment.

Test Your Knowledge

I should wait until I am in pain before I take medicine to ease menstrual cramping.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to manage your menstrual cramps and feel better.

Talk to your doctor if you do not feel better after taking medicine and using home treatment for your cramps.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerFemi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last RevisedMarch 22, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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