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.
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Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
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Pain in adults and older children
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Try the following home treatment to help manage your menstrual cramps:
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:
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofMarch 20, 2017
Current as of: March 20, 2017
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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