Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual Cramps)

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What is dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea (DIS-men-o-REE-ah) is the medical term for menstrual cramps. There are two types of dysmenorrhea: "primary" dysmenorrhea and "secondary" dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is common menstrual cramps. Cramps usually begin one to two years after a woman starts getting her period. Pain is usually felt in the lower abdomen or back and can be mild to severe. Common menstrual cramps usually become less painful as a woman ages and may stop entirely if the woman has a baby.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is pain caused by a disorder in the woman's reproductive organs. Pain from secondary dysmenorrhea usually begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts longer than common menstrual cramps.

What are the symptoms of menstrual cramps?

  • Aching pain in the abdomen (Pain can be severe at times).
  • Feeling of pressure in the abdomen
  • Pain in the hips, lower back and inner thighs

When cramps are severe, symptoms may include:

  • Upset stomach, sometimes with vomiting
  • Loose stool

What causes common menstrual cramps?


Menstrual cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus, a muscle. The uterus. the hollow pear-shaped organ where a baby grows, contracts throughout a woman's menstrual cycle. During menstruation, the uterus contracts more strongly. If the uterus contracts too strongly, it can press against nearby blood vessels, cutting off the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus. Pain results when part of the muscle briefly losses its supply of oxygen.

How can I relieve mild menstrual cramps?

To relieve mild menstrual cramps:

  • Take aspirin or another pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Note: For best relief, you must take ibuprofen as soon as bleeding or cramping starts).

  • Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower back or abdomen

You should also:

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

Women who exercise regularly often have less menstrual pain. To help prevent cramps,