Primary Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual Cramps)

Last Updated: August 16 2022

Routine menstrual cramps are clinically called primary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain not caused by other underlying conditions or diseases. If there is an underlying condition, such as endometriosis, that diagnosis is referred to as secondary dysmenorrhea.

Primary Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual Cramps) falls under theWomen’s HealthandPaincategories.

What are menstrual cramps?

Primary dysmenorrhea is the medical term for menstrual pain that occurs in the absence of any other underlying disease. It is generally more common in younger individuals and tends to taper off with age. Menstrual cramps affect roughly two-thirds of young women worldwide.[1][2]

What are the main signs and symptoms of menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramping or pain usually begins a couple of days before the onset of menstruation and generally lasts for a few days after.[2][3]

These symptoms include:

How are menstrual cramps diagnosed?

Menstrual cramps are generally diagnosed via a focused medical history and a routine pelvic exam that shows a lack of abnormal findings. [3] Secondary causes, such as endometriosis, can be evaluated with ultrasound but sometimes require further testing or evaluation by a specialist.[2] Visit the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to learn more about diagnosing primary dysmenorrhea and reducing menstrual pain.

What are some of the main medical treatments for menstrual cramps?

Over-the-counter Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the go-to treatment for menstrual cramps as they lower prostaglandin production and thus reduce cramping.[4] Check with your healthcare provider before taking NSAIDs.

For patients with significant primary dysmenorrhea (cramps not caused by another disease process), occasionally oral contraceptive pills may be recommended by a doctor as they may reduce episodes of cramping as well.

Seek medical help if menstrual pain is not relieved by NSAIDs or other self-care practices, cramps happen when you are or may be pregnant, cramps suddenly become worse, you are over 25 years of age and get severe cramps for the first time, cramps are accompanied by a fever, or you experience pain not around the time of menstruation.[2]

Have any supplements been studied for menstrual cramps?

Several supplements have been used to treat menstrual cramps including cinnamon, ginger, chamomile, fennel, omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and boron.[5][6][7]

How could diet affect menstrual cramps?

Dieting to lose weight, skipping meals, and a low intake of antioxidants have been associated with a greater risk of menstrual cramps.[8] Higher intakes of fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and dairy products have been associated with reduced risk.[8] It should be noted, though, that studies vary in the way they assess dietary habits and in their methods for measuring menstrual pain, so more evidence is needed to support specific diets and foods for dysmenorrhea.

Are there any other treatments for menstrual cramps?

Some self-care practices may be helpful to ease menstrual pain. These include using heat, like a hot water bottle or a heating pad on the lower abdomen, exercising, taking a hot bath, or relaxing by doing yoga or meditation.[2]

What causes menstrual cramps?

Elevated prostaglandin concentrations triggered by the drop in progesterone before menstruation are thought to be the main cause of menstrual cramps. There is some less certain evidence that elevated vasopressin concentrations may also play a role in this condition.[9]

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