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Dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual cramps)

Painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are a common reason to seek medical attention. During the menstrual cycle, the lining of the uterus produces a hormone called prostaglandin. It causes the uterus to contract, often painfully.

Besides mild to severe cramping in the lower belly, symptoms of painful menstrual cramps include headaches, nausea, and diarrhea or constipation.

Primary dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful menstrual cramping with no recognized physical cause. It's most common 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, such as endometriosis, uterine polyps or fibroids, or pelvic infection. Menstrual-type cramps also may occur after a medical procedure, such as cautery, cryotherapy, or IUD insertion.

To help relieve menstrual cramps:

  • Apply heat, such as a hot water bottle, a heating pad, or by soaking in a hot bath. This can relax tense muscles and relieve cramping.
  • Drink herbal teas, such as chamomile, mint, and blackberry. This can soothe tense muscles and anxious moods.
  • Exercise. Regular workouts make cramps less severe.
  • Empty your bladder frequently.

Treatment depends on the cause. Menstrual cramps may be relieved with over-the-counter pain medicine. Or you may need hormone treatment, such as birth control pills, to bring your hormones into balance.