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Women's Health

Your Guide to Menstrual Cramps

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How Can I Relieve Mild Menstrual Cramps?

To relieve mild menstrual cramps:

  • Take aspirin or another pain reliever, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen). (Note: For best relief, you must take these medications as soon as bleeding or cramping starts.)
  • Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower back or abdomen. Taking a warm bath may also provide some relief.

To relieve menstrual cramps, you should also:

  • Rest when needed.
  • Avoid foods that contain caffeine and salt.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Massage your lower back and abdomen.

Women who exercise regularly often have less menstrual pain. To help prevent cramps, make exercise a part of your weekly routine.

If these steps do not relieve pain, your health care provider can order medications for you, including:

  • Ibuprofen (higher dose than is available over the counter) or other prescription pain relievers
  • Oral contraceptives (Women taking birth control pills have less menstrual pain.)

How Do Problems With Reproductive Organs Cause Menstrual Cramps?

When a woman has a disease in her reproductive organs, cramping can be a problem. This type of cramping is called secondary dysmenorrhea. Conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhea include:

  • Endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue lining the uterus (the endometrium) is found outside of the uterus
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection caused by bacteria that starts in the uterus and can spread to other reproductive organs
  • Stenosis (narrowing) of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows), often caused by scarring
  • Tumors (also called "fibroids"), or growths on the inner wall of the uterus

How Do I Know If My Menstrual Cramps Are Normal?

If you have severe or unusual menstrual cramps, or cramping that lasts for more than two or three days, contact your health care provider. Menstrual cramps, whatever the cause, can be treated, so it's important to get checked.

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