7 Reasons for Painful Periods and Menstrual Cramps

What causes period cramps? Most women ask this question at some time in their life. It seems that when it comes to that time of the month, mild cramps, bloating, and irritability — although nuisances — are all to be expected, notes the Mayo Clinic.

With menstrual cramps, mild to intense abdominal cramping begins within 24 hours of the start of your period and continues for days. Symptoms of period pain include:

  • Dull, constant ache
  • Menstrual cramps that radiate to your lower back and thighs
  • Throbbing or cramping pain in your uterus during the period

Some women also experience:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Loose bowels
  • Nausea

But what causes cramps during your period? Menstrual cramps are generally categorized as “primary dysmenorrhea,” caused by the elevated production of prostaglandins, hormones produced by the uterus that cause it to contract. When you have strong uterine contractions, the blood supply to the uterus is momentarily shut down, depriving the uterus muscle of oxygen and setting up the cycle of menstrual cramps and pain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, conditions like endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease are associated with menstrual cramps. Endometriosis can cause fertility problems. Pelvic inflammatory disease can scar your fallopian tubes, which increases the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg implants outside your uterus. Other risk factors include use of an intrauterine device (IUD), uterine fibroid tumor, and sexually transmitted diseases.

If you have period pain, here are some home-care treatments to consider:

  • Diet A mostly plant-based diet that includes healthy fats can help lower inflammation overall and has been shown to decrease the duration and intensity of menstrual pain, notes the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
  • Relaxation While emotional stress may increase your period pain, meditation and relaxation exercises can reduce their severity, per research.
  • Exercise A review of research showed significant benefit for exercise of as little as 45 minutes three days a week, regardless of type or intensity. Yoga in particular may be especially effective. One study concluded that women who practiced yoga 30 minutes per day, two days a week, for 12 weeks at home had a significant improvement in menstrual pain and physical fitness over the control group. Another study found that Hatha yoga practice was associated with a reduction in levels of chronic pelvic pain in women with endometriosis.
  • Heat Try using a heating pad or microwaveable warm cozy on your abdomen during your period. Some people find great period pain relief with a soak in a hot bath or shower.
  • Stop Smoking and Avoid Alcohol Both substances have been found to make menstrual cramps much worse.
  • Dietary Supplements A wide variety of supplements have been studied for relief of menstrual pain, although compelling evidence for the effectiveness of any supplement is lacking. One research review looked at 27 studies that covered 12 supplements and concluded that, while there were some promising indicators, the data in general was relatively low in quality due to very small sample sizes in the studies. Note that supplement claims are also not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it’s best to talk with your doctor before trying supplements for your menstrual pain.

And in general, consult your doctor if your periods are causing you significant pain, because menstrual pain can be a sign of a serious problem. Here are seven conditions known to cause painful menstrual cramps.

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