by Honeliat Ephrem( MD)
Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen. Many women experience menstrual cramps just before and during their menstrual periods.
For some women, the discomfort is merely annoying. For others, menstrual cramps can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities for a few days every month.
Menstrual cramps may be caused by identifiable problems, such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. Treating any underlying cause is key to reducing the pain. Menstrual cramps that aren’t caused by an underlying condition tend to lessen with age and often improve once a woman has given birth.
You may be at greater risk of menstrual cramps if:
- You’re younger than age 30
- You started puberty early, at age 11 or younger
- You have heavy bleeding during periods (menorrhagia)
- You have irregular menstrual bleeding (metrorrhagia)
- You’ve never given birth
- You have a family history of dysmenorrhea
- You’re a smoker
Symptoms of menstrual cramps include:
- Throbbing or cramping pain in your lower abdomen that may be intense
- Dull, constant ache
- Pain that radiates to your lower back and thighs
- Some women also experience:
- Loose stools
When to see a doctor
If you’ve started menstruating within the past few years and have menstrual cramps, chances are your menstrual pain isn’t a cause for concern. However, if menstrual cramps disrupt your life every month, if your symptoms progressively worsen, or if you’re older than 25 and just started having severe menstrual cramps, see your doctor.
Things you may want to try at home include:
Exercise. Studies have found that physical activity may ease the pain of menstrual cramps.
Heat. Soaking in a hot bath or using a heating pad, hot water bottle or heat patch on your lower abdomen may ease menstrual cramps. Applying heat may be just as effective as over-the-counter pain medication for relieving menstrual cramps.
Dietary supplements. A number of studies have indicated that vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1 (thiamine), vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplements may effectively reduce menstrual cramps.
Avoiding alcohol and tobacco. These substances can make menstrual cramps worse.
Reducing stress. Psychological stress may increase your risk of menstrual cramps and their severity.