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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What is the treatment for common menstrual cramps (primary dysmenorrhea)?

Every woman needs to find a treatment that works for her. There are a number of possible remedies for menstrual cramps.

Current recommendations include not only adequate rest and sleep, but also regular exercise (especially walking). Some women find that abdominal massage, yoga, or orgasmic sexual activity may bring relief. A heating pad applied to the abdominal area may relieve the pain and congestion.

A number of nonprescription (over-the-counter) agents can help control the pain as well as actually prevent the menstrual cramps altogether. For mild cramps, aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol), or acetaminophen plus a diuretic (Diurex MPR, FEM-1, Midol, Pamprin, Premsyn, and others) may be sufficient. However, aspirin has limited effect in curbing the production of prostaglandin, and it is only useful for less painful cramps.

The main agents for treating moderate menstrual cramps are the nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which lower the production of prostaglandin and lessen its effect. The NSAIDs that do not require a prescription are:

A woman should start taking one of these medications before her pain becomes difficult to control. This might mean starting medication 1 to 2 days before her anticipated period is due, and then continuing taking the medication for the first one to two days of her period. The best results are obtained by taking one of the NSAIDs on a scheduled basis and not waiting for the pain to begin.

Prescription NSAIDs available for the treatment of menstrual cramps include mefenamic acid (Ponstel) and meclofenamate (Meclomen).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/3/2015

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