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 its effects.
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 include:
Menstrual-type cramps may occur after a medical procedure, such as cautery, cryotherapy, conization, radiation, endometrial biopsy, or IUD insertion.
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 the topic Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Check 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.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Try the following home treatment to help manage your menstrual cramps:
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
You may be able to prevent menstrual cramps.
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 following questions:
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.