Menstruation is when you have your period. Menstrual cramps are pains in your lower belly that happen a few days before, during, or after your period.
There are 2 types of menstrual cramps:
Primary menstrual cramps are the most common type. Such cramps:
Secondary menstrual cramps:
Are caused by another health problem, such as fibroids
Usually start when you're an adult
Primary menstrual cramps may be caused by:
Prostaglandins are chemicals your body makes. They make your uterus contract, and your nerve endings more sensitive to pain.
Secondary menstrual cramps are most often caused by health problems that affect your uterus such as:
Endometriosis: tissue (endometrium) that normally belongs inside your uterus grows outside your uterus
Fibroids: tumors (that are not cancer) in your uterus
Adenomyosis: the tissue in the lining of your uterus grows into the wall of your uterus, causing it to get bigger and swell during your periods
The main symptom is:
You may also have:
You're more likely to have severe symptoms if:
Menstrual cramps are unpleasant but not dangerous. However, more serious medical problems sometimes cause pain in the lower belly.
Go to a doctor today if you have lower belly pain and any of these:
Go to a doctor within a few days if you have menstrual cramps that are worse than usual or last longer than usual. If you don’t have any of the above, call your doctor when you can.
Doctors will suspect menstrual cramps based on your symptoms and an exam. To make certain there's no other cause for your symptoms, they may do one or more tests:
Ultrasound of your lower belly to see your ovaries, uterus, and cervix
If your doctor thinks you may have pelvic inflammatory disease, they’ll take a sample from your cervix with a cotton swab and test it for infections
Rarely, your doctor may need to do imaging tests, such as MRI, or use a viewing tube (hysteroscopy) to look inside your uterus.
If you have primary menstrual cramps, doctors will suggest ways to lessen your pain:
Get enough sleep
Put a heating pad on your lower belly
Take NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen a day or 2 before your period starts and the first 2 days of your period
Sometimes, take nutritional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed, magnesium, vitamin E, zinc, and vitamin B1
If you still have pain, doctors may:
Give you birth control pills—these pills keep your ovaries from releasing an egg
Give you other hormone treatments
Try nerve pain medicines such as gabapentin
Suggest alternative treatments such as acupuncture
If your pain is very severe even with treatment, doctors may:
If you have secondary menstrual cramps, doctors will treat the health problem that’s causing your pain.