What is menstrual pain and cramps?

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Painful menstrual cramps in teens: Overview

Painful menstrual cramps (called dysmenorrhea) can occur during or just before your period. The cramping can involve your lower belly, back, or thighs. And the pain from these cramps can range from mild to severe. You may also have diarrhea, constipation, or nausea. Or you may get dizzy.

Pain medicine and home treatment can help ease your cramps.

Dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual cramps)

Painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) can occur during or just before your period. The cramping can involve your lower belly, back, or thighs. And the pain from these cramps can range from mild to severe.

Primary dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful menstrual cramping that isn't caused by a medical problem. It often starts during the teen years, when periods first start. But the pain often improves as you get older. Secondary dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful menstrual cramping caused by a medical 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 insertion.

Using over-the-counter medicines to ease painful menstrual cramps

It's common to have painful cramps from your period now and then. The good news is that you can usually ease cramps with over-the-counter (OTC) medicine.

Here are some medicines you can try and ways to help get the most benefit out of the medicine you use.

  • Take over-the-counter medicines to reduce pain.
    • Try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve).
    • Try acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) if NSAIDs don't relieve the pain.

    Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. If you are trying to become pregnant, talk to your doctor before you use any medicine.

  • Stay ahead of the pain.

    Pain medicine works better if you take it before the pain gets bad.

    • Start taking the recommended dose of the pain medicine as soon as you start to feel cramping, or on the day before your period starts.
    • Keep taking the medicine for as long as you have cramps.

Teens: How can you care for painful menstrual cramps?

  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), for pain from cramps.
    • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you take any of these medicines. They may not be safe if you are taking other medicines or have other health problems.
    • Start taking the recommended dose of pain medicine as soon as you start to feel pain or the day before your period starts. Keep taking the medicine for as many days as your cramps last.
    • If anti-inflammatory medicines do not relieve the pain, try acetaminophen (Tylenol).
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
    • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Put a warm water bottle, a heating pad set on low, or a warm cloth on your belly. Heat improves blood flow and may relieve pelvic pain.
  • Lie down and put a pillow under your knees, or lie on your side and bring your knees up to your chest. This will help relieve back pressure.
  • Get plenty of exercise every day. This improves blood flow and may decrease pain. Go for a walk or jog, ride your bike, or play sports with friends.

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