Menstrual cramps: Causes and management

Menstrual cramps are painful sensations that affect many women before and during a menstrual period.

The pain, also known as dysmenorrhea or period pains, ranges from dull and annoying to severe and extreme. Menstrual cramps tend to begin after ovulation when an egg is released from the ovaries and travels down the fallopian tube.

Pain occurs in the lower abdomen and lower back. It usually begins 1 to 2 days before menstruation and lasts from 2 to 4 days.

Pain that is only associated with the process of menstruation is known as primary dysmenorrhea.

If the cramping pain is due to an identifiable medical problem such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease, it is called secondary dysmenorrhea.

Fast facts on menstrual cramps

Here are some key points about menstrual cramps. More detail is in the main article.

Menstrual cramps are pains felt in the lower abdomen, before and during menstruation.

The pain can range from slight to severe.

Emotional stress can increase the chance of experiencing menstrual cramps.

Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness, headaches, and diarrhea.

Menstrual cramps can be treated with over-the-counter medicine, birth control treatments, and some home remedies.

Treatment

[menstrual cramps IUD]
An IUD can help to reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps.

Over-the-counter medication is available to treat most cases of menstrual cramps.

Anti-prostaglandins reduce cramping in the uterus, lighten the flow of blood, and relieve discomfort.

These medications may also contain pain killers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. These are types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

NSAIDs are also used alone to reduce menstrual cramp pain.

If the woman is a good candidate, a physician may prescribe hormonal birth control pills to prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. These work by thinning the lining of the uterus, where the prostaglandins form. This reduces cramping and bleeding.

In some cases, birth control pills can be used continuously, without the 4 to 7-day break each month that is normally adhered to. There will be no bleeding at all, in this case.

Other types of birth control, including some types of hormonal IUD, vaginal rings, patches, and injections can all help decrease cramping.

If the cramps are due to an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis or fibroids, surgery may be needed to remove the abnormal tissue.

Prevention

Measures that may reduce the risk of menstrual cramps include:

eating fruits and vegetables and limiting intake of fat, alcohol, caffeine, salt, and sweets

exercising regularly

reducing stress

quitting smoking

Yoga or acupuncture and acupressure help, but more research is needed.

If the first treatment option does not work within 2 to 3 months, the patient should return to the doctor.

A more invasive type of therapy may be available, or further investigations may be needed.

[Menstrual cramps]
Menstrual cramps are sharp pains in the abdomen before and during menstruation.

Menstrual cramps usually refer to a dull, throbbing, cramping pain in the lower abdomen, just above the pelvic bone.

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