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Women's Healths

Menstrual Cramps

Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Many women suffer from painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). Symptoms include mild to severe cramping in the lower abdomen, back, or thighs; headaches; diarrhea or constipation; nausea; dizziness; and fainting. During the menstrual cycle, the lining of the uterus produces a hormone called prostaglandin. This hormone causes the uterus to contract, often painfully. Women who get severe cramps may produce higher-than-normal amounts of prostaglandin or may be more sensitive to its effects.

An intrauterine device (IUD) can 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. Pain caused by endometriosis (a condition in which cells from the lining of the uterus become implanted on other pelvic organs) usually occurs 1 to 2 days before menstrual bleeding begins and continues through the period. Pelvic infections may cause pain at any time, but the pain often occurs after menstrual bleeding has begun. Some women who have noncancerous uterine growths (uterine fibroids) have menstrual cramps.

Home Treatment

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  • Exercise. Regular workouts decrease the severity of cramps. See Fitness.

  • Ibuprofen generally helps ease cramps better than aspirin and acetaminophen do. Take ibuprofen the day before your period starts, or at the first sign of pain. Take it with milk or food. Otherwise, it may upset your stomach.

  • Use heat (hot water bottles, heating pads, or hot baths) to relax tense muscles and relieve cramping.

  • Herbal teas (such as chamomile, mint, raspberry, and blackberry) may help soothe tense muscles and anxious moods.

  • Try using sanitary pads instead of tampons.

  • If symptoms other than cramping (such as weight gain, headache, and tension) occur before your period begins, see Premenstrual Syndrome on See Premenstrual Syndrome.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If sudden, severe pelvic pain occurs, with or without menstrual bleeding.

  • If your menstrual cramps have become worse.

  • If pelvic pain seems unrelated to your menstrual cycle.

  • If you have cramps and a fever of 37.8°C (100°F) or higher.

  • If cramps begin 5 to 7 days before your period starts or continue after your period stops.

  • If cramps do not respond to Home Treatment for 3 cycles, or if they interfere with your normal activities.

  • If you suspect that your intra-uterine device (IUD) is causing cramps, and the pain is more than you can stand or is worse than what your doctor told you to expect.

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