All about menstrual cramps

Information on menstrual cramps

If you never suffer from period pain or menstrual cramps you’re extremely lucky. Unfortunately for many women, it’s just a fact of life that before and during a period they may suffer from menstrual cramps. Severe period pain is called dysmenorrhea.
Usually menstrual cramp pain is mild. But sometimes it can be severe. The pains can vary from sharp stabs that make you double over to a nagging pain that spreads through your belly and lower back. Some women also experience dizziness, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting.
There are two types of menstrual cramps: primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is more common in young women and often becomes less severe from the mid-20s onward and after giving birth. Secondary dysmenorrhea can be caused by other conditions such as endometriosis, fibroid tumors, pelvic adhesions and ovarian cysts – or by using an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception.

What causes menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps are thought to be related to prostaglandins – substances that are made by the lining of the uterus – that cause the uterus to contract. At the start of your period, prostaglandin levels are high, and as you start to menstruate, the levels decrease. If you don’t ovulate, it is unlikely that you’ll get cramps during your period. Doctors often prescribe the pill to ease painful periods – but these can cause abnormal bleeding in some women.

Tackling menstrual cramps

Try a combination of these to alleviate the menstrual cramp symptoms:

  1. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium inhibit the formation of prostaglandins and can make the cramps less severe. If you have bleeding disorders, liver disease, stomach disorders or ulcers, talk to your doctor before taking this type of medicine.
  2. Regular exercise and stretching are very effective.
  3. Relax by meditating or practicing yoga.
  4. Get enough sleep before and during your period to help you cope with any discomfort.
  5. Vitamin B1 or a magnesium supplement can reduce pain.
  6. Take a warm bath or apply a heating pad on your lower abdomen or back.
  7. Hormonal contraception may also reduce menstrual pain. Only take these with your doctor’s approval.


  • ACOG brochure 46 Dysmenorrhea.