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Painful Menstrual Cramps: Care Instructions

Menstrual flow

Your Care Instructions

Painful menstrual cramps (called dysmenorrhea) are one of the most common reasons women seek medical attention. Painful periods can cause cramping in the back, thighs, and belly. You may also have diarrhea, constipation, or nausea. Some women get dizzy.

Pain medicine and home treatment can help ease your cramps.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) generally work better than aspirin to ease cramps.
    • Start taking the recommended dose of pain medicine as soon as you start to feel pain or the day before your period starts. Keep taking the medicine for as many days as your cramps last.
    • If anti-inflammatory medicines do not relieve the pain, try acetaminophen (Tylenol).
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
    • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you take any of these medicines. They may not be safe if you are taking other medicines or have other health problems.
    • Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • 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 relieve pelvic pain.
  • Lie down and put a pillow under your knees, or lie on your side and bring your knees up to your chest. This will help relieve back pressure.
  • Use pads instead of tampons.
  • Get at least 2½ hours of exercise a week. This improves blood flow and may decrease pain. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe vaginal bleeding.
  • You have new or worse belly or pelvic pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.
  • You have unusual vaginal bleeding.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.