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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
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
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
Current as of:
November 14, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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