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Menstrual Cramps – Causes and Treatments

Girl covered with a blanket drinking hot drinkGirl covered with a blanket drinking hot drink

Menstrual cramps and periods often go hand-in-hand. For some of you that are luckier than the rest of us, they might be mild cramps with little discomfort, while for others it might be incredibly painful and get in the way of…well, everything. Bad news – menstrual cramps can happen to any of us and can come monthly, both before and during our period. Good news – menstrual cramps can become less painful as you age (yay for getting older!), period cramps could stop entirely if you have a baby, and we’ve got some tips that may help ease the symptoms of menstrual cramps and painful periods. So, sit back, grab a heating pad, and keep reading.

What are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps, medically named dysmenorrhea, are cramps that come with a menstrual cycle, caused by muscle contraction and swelling of the uterus. Menstrual cramps can be mild or severe with the most common symptoms being pain or pressure felt in the lower abdomen, lower back, or even your thighs. Some of us experience severe cramps have symptoms of nausea, loose stool, headaches, and dizziness. If symptoms are severe, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor to understand dysmenorrhea treatment options and to ensure it’s not something more severe.

Menstrual cramps happen as a normal part of the body’s monthly cycle. This is going to get technical, so hang in there. But, each month the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) builds up in preparation for getting pregnant. If a pregnancy occurs, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining to be nourished as it develops into a baby. If the egg isn’t fertilized, the lining isn’t needed. So it breaks down and hormones called prostaglandins are released. Prostaglandins trigger muscle contractions, which is when the muscles contract and squeeze strongly and it can cut off oxygen to your uterus – this right here is what causes the painful menstrual cramps. The muscles are the same ones that push a baby out during childbirth, so they are very strong. Some women may have higher levels of prostaglandins, which means unfortunately they get worse menstrual cramps.

And, if you’ve ever found yourself wondering if tampons make menstrual cramps worse, Dr. Melisa Holmes, OB-GYN, shares, “No they don’t...tampons have nothing to do with prostaglandin synthesis or the way they’re used in the body.” Thank goodness!

Watch this Video to learn more from Dr. Holmes about Menstrual Cramps and Tampons.

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Cramp Duration - When to expect menstrual cramps

Primary dysmenorrhea…aka, menstrual cramps, typically happen for the first time 1-2 years after a woman experiences her first menstrual cycle and menstrual bleeding and can altogether disappear later in life after having a baby. The symptoms of menstrual cramps can occur each month, usually starting 1 to 2 days before menstrual bleeding begins and the pain of cramps can last up to 72 hours.

How to Get Rid of Cramps and Other Treatment Options

Don’t let this cramp your style though, several home remedies may help alleviate the symptoms of menstrual cramps and get you back to your normal life. So, if you are looking to stop period cramps fast or make the pain of cramps go away, use these tips to put your painful periods at ease:

  • Lie down with a heating pad on your stomach, lower back, or lower abdomen to take the edge off the pain
  • You can also place a hot water bottle on the lower back or lower abdomen to alleviate your period pain
  • Take a warm bath to reduce the pain of menstrual cramps and increase blood flow
  • Ask your doctor about which over-the-counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory drugs are best for you
  • Give yourself a little massage where it hurts.
  • Exercise. You probably have ZERO interest in moving while in pain, but exercising before and during your period will lower your level of prostaglandins (the stuff that intensifies menstrual cramps).
  • Have sex! Yup, you heard us right. Having sex on your period may help with period cramps. Learn more about period sex.

If you have severe menstrual cramps, hormone treatments and birth control pills are also options that some use to help manage their cycle. Certain types of hormone treatments can stop ovulation, significantly reducing menstrual cramps. Birth control pills are often used to reduce the effect of prostaglandins. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormonal birth control and hormones treatments to ease the pain of menstrual cramps.

Want more ways to alleviate menstrual cramps and feel better on your period? Check out these period hacks.

Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual Cramps) Causes & Treatments | Tampax ®
Want to know how to get rid of menstrual cramps or reduce the pain? Learn the causes of period cramps, when to expect them, treatment options, and more.