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Women's Health

Your Guide to Menstrual Cramps

What Causes Common Menstrual Cramps?

Menstrual cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus, which is a muscle. The uterus, the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows, contracts throughout a woman's menstrual cycle. If the uterus contracts too strongly, it can press against nearby blood vessels, cutting off the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus. Pain results when part of a muscle briefly loses its supply of oxygen.

How Can I Relieve Mild Menstrual Cramps?

To relieve mild menstrual cramps:

  • Take aspirin or another pain reliever, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen). (Note: For best relief, you must take these medications as soon as bleeding or cramping starts.)
  • Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your lower back or abdomen. Taking a warm bath may also provide some relief.

To relieve menstrual cramps, you should also:

  • Rest when needed.
  • Avoid foods that contain caffeine and salt.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Massage your lower back and abdomen.

Women who exercise regularly often have less menstrual pain. To help prevent cramps, make exercise a part of your weekly routine.

If these steps do not relieve pain, your health care provider can order medications for you, including:

  • Ibuprofen (higher dose than is available over the counter) or other prescription pain relievers
  • Oral contraceptives (Women taking birth control pills have less menstrual pain.)

WebMD Medical Reference

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