Menstrual Cramps

What are Menstrual Cramps?

A woman’s menstrual cycle is often accompanied by cramping pains as the uterus contracts to shed the lining so it can be refreshed.

Over half of women experiencing monthly periods report cramps as one of their symptoms. Mild to moderate cramping is not abnormal, but severe cramping can interrupt your life.

Also known as dysmenorrhea, this condition either has no distinct cause or arises due to issues with the uterus, ovaries, or other part of the woman’s reproductive system.

What are the Symptoms of Menstrual Cramps?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain that spreads across the lower abdomen, lower back, inner thighs, hips, or stomach
  • Cramps that precede menstruation by a few days or last longer than the bleeding
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to stimulus like smells, sounds, and light levels
  • Difficulty sleeping due to the pain

How are Menstrual Cramps Treated?

Unless you have a fever or discharge accompanying your cramps, you can treat your menstrual cramps at home. Heating pads, over-the-counter pain killers, exercises that stretch the pelvic muscles, and self-massage on the abdomen all reduce the pain. If the cramps become disabling or persist for years, your doctor may prescribe birth control medications or other medications to limit bleeding and reduce cramping intensity.

Antibiotics may be necessary for cramps worsened by infections or sexually transmitted diseases, while surgery is only helpful in cases complicated by uterine abnormalities or fibroids. Extensive testing is needed to determine the cause of severe menstrual cramps, but finding the cause is essential for controlling the pain.

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Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
August 31, 2017
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