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Menstrual Cramps

Definition and Facts About Menstrual Cramps

  • Menstrual cramps are throbbing or cramping pains that occur in a woman's lower abdomen caused by contractions of the uterus. These contractions are related to the levels of prostglandins that rise and fall during the menstrual cycle. Cramps usually begin just before or during the first few days of a menstrual period.
  • Risk factors for menstrual cramps include the following:
  • Prostaglandins may play a role in menstrual cramps, and pathologic conditions, for example, endometriosis, fibroids, infections and other conditions also may contribute to menstrual cramps.
  • Menstrual cramps can produce one or more of the following symptoms:
  • A woman should contact a healthcare professional if menstrual cramps become painful for a longer time than usual, if the pain is different, if bleeding is excessive (for example, one pad or tampon per hour), has fever, chills, or body aches; suspects pregnancy or have menstrual cramps for the first time past the age of 25, has fainting, dizziness and/or passes tissue with menstrual blood.
  • Menstrual cramps usually are diagnosed by taking a detailed medical history along with physical exam (including a pelvic exam) and a pregnancy test. Other diagnostic tests may include ultrasound, MRI, laparoscopy or hysteroscopy.
  • Menstrual cramps usually are treated initially with natural home remedies and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Some females may be prescribed hormonal birth control or medications such as mefenamic acid (Ponstel) or meclofenamate (Meclomen).
  • Some women may require surgery such as endometrial ablation, endometrial resection or hysterectomy.
  • Some healthcare professionals and naturopaths recommend alternative medical treatment that may include acupuncture, nitroglycerin patches, A TENS (transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation) device, or supplement such as thiamine, vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids; however, there is little data to support such treatments.
  • Menstrual cramp prevention, or more likely, menstrual cramp reduction can be accomplished by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes good nutrition, weight control, and exercise along with smoking cessation.
  • The prognosis for menstrual cramps varies from good to fair as sometimes they will disappear after pregnancy and often are well-controlled by NSAIDs. Underlying causes such as fibroids, when removed or treated, can cause menstrual cramps to stop.
Last Reviewed 12/4/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Menstrual Cramps:

Menstrual Cramps - Home Remedies

What kind of home remedies have you found helpful in reducing the discomfort of menstrual cramps?

Menstrual Cramps - Experience

Please share your experience with managing the pain and associated symptoms of menstrual cramps.

Menstrual Cramps - Stopping

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Menstrual Pain - Treatment

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What's Causing Your Pelvic Pain?

Pelvic pain may develop from many diseases and conditions. For example, pelvic pain may come from:

  • Spastic colon
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Uterine fibroids

For most people, pelvic pain should be investigated by a health-care professional.

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