Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual cramps) are throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen. Many women experience menstrual cramps just before and during their menstrual periods.
Symptoms of dysmenorrhea or menstrual cramps include:
- Throbbing or cramping pain in your lower abdomen that may be intense
- Dull, constant ache
- Pain that radiates to your lower back and thighs
Some women also experience:
- Loose stools
When to see a doctor
If you’ve started menstruating within the past few years and have menstrual cramps, chances are your menstrual pain isn’t a cause for concern. However, if menstrual cramps disrupt your life every month, if your symptoms progressively worsen, or if you’re older than 25 and just started having severe menstrual cramps, see your doctor.
During your menstrual period, your uterus contracts to help expel its lining. Hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) involved in pain and inflammation trigger the uterine muscle contractions. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more-severe menstrual cramps.
Menstrual cramps may also be caused by:
- Uterine fibroids
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Cervical stenosis
You may be at greater risk of menstrual cramps if:
- You’re younger than age 30
- You started puberty early, at age 11 or younger
- You have heavy bleeding during periods (menorrhagia)
- You have irregular menstrual bleeding (metrorrhagia)
- You’ve never given birth
- You have a family history of dysmenorrhea
- You’re a smoker
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. During the pelvic exam, your doctor will check for any abnormalities in your reproductive organs and look for signs of infection.
If your doctor suspects that your menstrual cramps are being caused by an underlying disorder, he or she may recommend other tests, such as:
- Ultrasound.This test uses sound waves to create an image of your uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
- Other imaging tests. CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Laparoscopy usually isn’t necessary for the diagnosis of menstrual cramps, but it can help detect an underlying condition, such as endometriosis, adhesions, fibroids, ovarian cysts and ectopic pregnancy.
Treatments and drugs
Menstrual cramps are treatable. Your doctor may recommend:
- Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium . Prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as mefenamic acid , also are available. If you can’t take NSAIDs, acetaminophen may lessen your pain.
- Sometimes oral birth control pills contain hormones that prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Things you may want to try at home include:
- HeatSoaking in a hot bath or using a heating pad, hot water bottle or heat patch on your lower abdomen may ease menstrual cramps. Applying heat may be just as effective as over-the-counter pain medication for relieving menstrual cramps.
- Dietary supplements A number of studies have indicated that vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1 (thiamine), vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplements may effectively reduce menstrual cramps.
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco
- Reducing stress