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Menstrual Cramps


Disease: Menstrual Cramps Menstrual Cramps
Category: Gynecological diseases
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Disease Definition:

"Dysmenorrhea" is the medical term for menstrual cramps that women deal with.

The throbbing, dull or cramping pains in the lower abdomen are menstrual cramps. Menstrual cramps are experienced by many women just before and during their menstrual periods. The discomfort can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities for a few days every month for some women. But for others, it may be merely annoying.

Usually, menstrual cramps that aren't caused by some underlying condition tend to lessen with age and often disappear once a woman has given birth. However, identifiable problems, like endometriosis or uterine fibroids may be the cause of menstrual cramps for some women. The key to reducing the pain is treating the underlying cause.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


The following are included in the symptoms of menstrual cramps:


  • Pain that radiates to the lower back and thighs
  • Dull, throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen

Some women also experience:


  • Dizziness
  • Loose stools
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating

If the woman started menstruating within the past few years and is experiencing cramps, chances are the menstrual pain is not a cause for concern. However, a woman should see a doctor if she's older and just started experiencing severe menstrual cramps or if menstrual cramps disrupt her life for several days a month.


The uterus contracts to help expel its lining during menstrual periods. The uterine muscle contractions are triggered by prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances involved in inflammation and pain. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more severe menstrual cramps.

The blood vessels feeding the uterus are believed to be constricted by severe contractions. The pain that results may be compared to the angina that occurs when blocked coronary arteries starve portions of the heart of food and oxygen.

The following can also cause menstrual cramps:

Uterine fibroids:
In some rare cases, the cause of the pain may be these noncancerous tumors and growths in the wall of the uterus.

Cervical stenosis:
Causing a painful increase of pressure within the uterus, the opening of the cervix may be so small that it impedes menstrual flow in some women.

The tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow into the muscular walls of the uterus in this condition.

This is a painful condition in which the type of tissue that lines the uterus becomes implanted outside the uterus, most commonly on the fallopian tubes, ovaries or the tissue lining the pelvis.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID):
Sexually transmitted bacteria are usually the cause of this infection of the female reproductive organs.

Some of the factors that may increase a woman’s risk of dysmenorrheal include:


  • Heavy bleeding during periods (menorrhagia)
  • Early onset of puberty (age 11 or younger)
  • Being younger than 20
  • Never having delivered a baby



Depending on the underlying cause of the menstrual cramps, complications may vary. For instance, the fallopian tubes can be scarred, increasing the risk of a fertilized egg implanting in the tube (ectopic pregnancy) instead of in the uterus as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease, while endometriosis can cause fertility problems.



Hormonal birth control:
Hormones that reduce the severity of menstrual cramps and prevent ovulation are contained in oral birth control pills. Injection, a patch worn on the skin, or a flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina can also deliver these hormones.

In relieving the pain of menstrual cramps, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be helpful. Taking over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, at regular doses starting the day before the period begins may be initially suggested. Prescription NSAIDs, such as mefenamic acid are available as well.

The symptoms may be reduced by the surgical removal of the abnormal tissue if the menstrual cramps are caused by an underlying disorder, such as endometriosis or fibroids.


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