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Understanding Menstrual Pain and How to Get Relief

Woman having menstruation pain and cramps

Medically Reviewed By:

Mary K. Polinard, BSN, RN, CNOR

Nearly every menstruating woman has experienced menstrual pain at some point in her life. For some women, this pain is very minor and manageable, but for others, it interferes with daily activities and could be a sign of a more serious condition of the reproductive system.

In addition to pain and cramping, many women experience other symptoms in the days leading up to their periods as well. These symptoms are normal and natural, but they may warrant a trip to the doctor if they become severe or debilitating.

This article will discuss the topic of menstrual cramps, including what causes them, what they feel like, and how to find effective relief.

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What Are Menstrual Cramps?

Menstrual cramps affect girls who get their very first period as well as women who get their very last period before menopause. Cramps of this type are medically referred to as dysmenorrhea and typically strike one to three days before a woman gets her monthly period.1

Why Menstrual Pain Occurs

The cramping and pain that occurs in the abdominal area of a woman before her period is due to contractions in the uterus or womb. These contractions are necessary to help the uterus get rid of its lining during a menstrual period.1,2 When these contractions become greater, they can push against nearby vessels and briefly reduce the oxygen supply to the uterus. This momentary loss of oxygen supply to the uterine muscle is what causes the pain and cramping.1

While this sensation is very common, menstrual cramps can also be caused by the medical conditions of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or pelvic inflammatory disease. Women who have higher-than-normal levels of prostaglandins may experience menstrual pain that is more severe. When painful menstruation is caused by a medical condition, it is referred to as secondary dysmenorrhea.1

Common Symptoms of Menstrual Pain

Menstrual pain most commonly occurs in the lower abdominal area, but it can also radiate to the lower back and legs. It often feels like a dull and constant aching pain, rather than a sudden or sharp-shooting pain.1,2 In addition to this pain, women may also feel nauseous, have headaches, experience dizziness, and notice changes in their bowel movements in the days leading up to a period.2

Finding Menstrual Cramps Relief

There are also many lifestyle changes that women can try to cope with menstrual pain and find menstrual cramps relief. Exercising regularly is a great way to reduce cramps, as well as reducing daily stress. Many women also find it useful to take a hot bath or place a heating pad on the abdomen to reduce pain.1,2 Dietary supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and magnesium may help to prevent future cramping as well.2 Meanwhile, alternative medicine therapies, such as massage1, acupuncture and acupressure2, can assist in relieving menstrual pain when combined with over-the-counter medications and healthy lifestyle habits.

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References for Understanding Menstrual Pain and How to Get Relief

1. Cleveland Clinic. What Is Dysmenorrhea / Menstrual Cramps. Retrieved on August 26, 2019 from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4148-dysmenorrhea.
2. Mayo Clinic. Menstrual Cramps. Retrieved on August 26, 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/symptoms-causes/syc-20374938.

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