Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Menstrual cramps facts

  • Menstrual cramps are periodic abdominal and pelvic pains experienced by women.
  • More than half of all menstruating women have cramps.
  • The cramps are severe in at least one in seven of these women.
  • Medically, menstrual cramps are called dysmenorrhea.
  • Primary dysmenorrhea is common menstrual cramps without an identifiable cause.
  • Secondary dysmenorrhea results from an underlying abnormality that usually involves the woman's reproductive system.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to treat cramps.
  • Physical exercise can help alleviate menstrual cramps.
  • Menstrual cramps tend to improve with age.

What are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps are pains in the abdomen and pelvic areas that can be experienced by a woman as a result of her menstrual period. Menstrual cramps are not the same as the discomfort felt duringpremenstrual syndrome (PMS), although the symptoms of both disorders can sometimes be experienced as a continuous process. Many women suffer from both PMS and menstrual cramps.

Menstrual cramps can range from mild to quite severe. Mild menstrual cramps may be barely noticeable and of short duration. They are sometimes felt as just a sense of heaviness in the abdomen. Severe menstrual cramps can be so painful that they interfere with a woman's normal activities for several days.

How common are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps of some degree affect an estimated 50% of women, and among these, up to 15% would describe their menstrual cramps as severe. Surveys of adolescent girls show that over 90% report having menstrual cramps.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/3/2015

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