Please visit our main Painful Periods page.
The monthly menstrual period is a natural part of life for most women from puberty to menopause. Although menstrual periods are sometimes referred to as “the curse,” the gynecology specialists at The Woman’s Health Pavilion don’t want you to dread getting yours each month. If you frequently suffer from painful menstrual cramps, we can help you determine the cause and provide options for lasting relief. This page contains the answers to some questions we are commonly asked about painful periods.
To get relief from serious menstrual cramps, request an appointment with a gynecologist or one of our specially-trained practitioners at any of our Queens or Long Island locations. We see patients 7 days a week and offer same-day appointments for urgent conditions.
Isn’t it normal to have painful periods?
Minor discomfort is normal for the first day or two of menstruation. If the pain is so extreme that over-the-counter pain relievers don’t work and you often miss work, school, or social events, you should be evaluated by a gynecologist for dysmenorrhea.
What is dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea (pronounced dis-men-o-ree-ah) is the medical term for severe menstrual cramps. The pain of dysmenorrhea commonly occurs in the lower abdomen (belly), but may radiate also to the low back or upper thighs. Severe dysmenorrhea is sometimes associated with nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
The most common type of dysmenorrhea is called primary dysmenorrhea, which simply means severe menstrual cramps that occur without a diagnosed cause. Primary dysmenorrhea is common in young women during the first few years of their periods. Secondary dysmenorrhea refers to severe menstrual cramps caused by specific medical conditions, like endometriosis.
What causes the pain?
During your period, the uterus contracts, expelling its inner lining together with menstrual blood. The lining of the uterus releases substances called prostaglandins, which cause menstrual cramps. Some women produce more prostaglandins than others and therefore experience more intense cramps. Over-the -ounter pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen relieve menstrual cramps by blocking prostaglandins.
Are there medical conditions associated with painful cramps?
Yes, there are several medical conditions associated with painful menstruation, including:
- Endometriosis: In women with endometriosis, tissue from the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) implants or other organs of the pelvis.
- Adenomyosis: In women with adenomyosis, the inner lining of the uterus invades the muscular wall of the uterus.
- Uterine fibroids: Fibroids are benign tumors which grow in the uterus, commonly causing heavy periods and menstrual cramps.
- Uterine polyps: Polyps are fleshy growths which occur in the inner lining of the uterus. These may cause heavy and painful periods. Large polyps can cause cramps even without bleeding.
- Sexually transmitted infections: Certain infections such as chlamydia when untreated can cause pelvic adhesions (scarring), which can lead to chronic pain.
- Congenital causes: Sometimes a woman’s reproductive organs don’t form properly, so that menstrual blood cannot be expelled. When young women with these abnormalities reach puberty, they may have severe cramps every month when their period is expected.
Mild menstrual cramps which are easily controlled with over the counter medication probably do not require medical attention. If you have severe cramps that do not respond to Motrin, Advil, or Aleve, you should be evaluated to determine if an underlying condition is causing the cramps.
How are painful periods treated?
We recommend an in-office evaluation for women who cannot manage their period pain on their own. Common treatment options include:
- Over-the-counter medications: Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) are both effective at controlling menstrual cramps
- Prescription-strength pain medications: For severe cramps, ibuprofen or naproxen may be prescribed at a stronger dosage than is available over the counter.
- Birth control pills keep the inner lining of the uterus thin. This not only reduces menstrual flow, but it significantly reduces menstrual cramps for most women.
- An intrauterine device (IUD) that contains progesterone such as Skyla® or Mirena® can reduce menstrual flow, and can sometimes improve cramping.
- Endometrial ablation is an office procedure that inactivates the inner lining of the uterus. While it is primarily used to treat heavy periods, there is some evidence that endometrial ablation can be used in selected women to treat menstrual cramps.
- Hysterectomy eliminates menstrual cramps when other treatment options have failed.
Are there natural treatments for cramps?
Some women have experienced relief using natural remedies, including:
- A warm bath or heating pad
- Yoga or exercise
- Over-the-counter supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12, or magnesium
May We Help You?
Would you like to find out more about our treatments and services? Are you looking for a second opinion on a diagnosis or treatment recommendation you received at another practice? The experienced team at The Woman’s Health Pavilion is happy to help. Just let us know how and when you’d like to hear from us.