Painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are one of the most common reasons for women to seek medical attention. During the menstrual cycle, the lining of the uterus produces a hormone called prostaglandin, which causes the uterus to contract, often painfully.
Besides mild to severe cramping in the lower belly, symptoms of painful menstrual cramps include headaches, nausea, and diarrhea or constipation.
Primary dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful menstrual cramping with no recognized physical cause. It is most commonly seen in women between the ages of 20 and 24. It usually goes away after 1 to 2 years, when hormonal balance occurs. Secondary dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful menstrual cramping caused by a physical problem, such as endometriosis, uterine polyps or fibroids, or pelvic infection. Menstrual-type cramps also may occur after a medical procedure, such as cautery, cryotherapy, or IUD insertion.
A woman may be able to relieve menstrual cramps by:
Treatment depends on the cause. Menstrual cramps may be relieved with over-the-counter pain medicine. Some women need hormone treatment, such as birth control pills, to bring their hormones into balance.
Last Revised: June 20, 2011
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
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