Period cramps are annoying, aggravating and at times, downright terrible - and they may be a regular part of the menstrual cycle for more than half of women who have periods.
When you're having menstrual cramps (also referred to as dysmenorrhea), you can have pain in your belly, hips, lower back, and even your inner thighs. The pain in your belly may also be accompanied by pressure, and in severe cases, loose stools, upset stomach, and vomiting.
Even though your menstrual cramps may be normal, it doesn't mean there's nothing you can do to relieve the pain. Here are a few things you can do (besides eating chocolate).
Do you need relief from your period cramps right away? Lying down with a heating pad is one of the best ways to relieve menstrual cramps. In fact, keeping heat applied to the area of your belly where the pain is the worst can be just as effective as using a pain killer like ibuprofen.
But since you can't stay connected to a heating pad all day, try taking a warm bath, using a hot water bottle, or applying a heat patch instead. The key is to keep the heat as continuous as possible.
Over-the-counter medication for period cramps
Many of the same over-the-counter pain relievers you use for headaches can also help relieve menstrual cramping pain. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), naproxen (Aleve), and even acetaminophen (Tylenol). You should start taking a pain reliever when you begin feeling symptoms of period cramps and continue taking the medicine for two or three days, or until your symptoms are gone. For severe menstrual cramps, your doctor may recommend a prescription anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Exercise or have sex
Need a reason to work out during your period? The endorphins produced while exercising or having sex can help relieve your menstrual cramps. Any type of exercise, whether it be aerobic or simply stretching has been found to lessen the pain of your cramping.
Birth control for period cramps
When you have period cramps you just can't seem to relieve with the methods mentioned above, your doctor may prescribe birth control, which provides your body with hormones that may reduce your menstrual cramping. Talk to your doctor about your birth control options. They include birth control pills, injections, a patch, or an intrauterine device. Such a wide array of birth control options are available that there should be something that will work for your lifestyle and individual needs. Just make sure to let your doctor know you’re hoping to find a birth control option that will provide relief from your menstrual cramping.
Some women have found success with alternative medicines. Some of these include:
- Supplements like magnesium, fish oil, and vitamin B1
- Herbal teas like red raspberry leaf, fennel, pycnogenol, cramp bark, or tea with peppermint oil
Things to avoid
While many things can help reduce pain from menstrual cramps, there are also a few things you should try to avoid. These include stress, alcohol, and caffeine, all of which can make your menstrual cramping worse. Limit these things as much as possible during your period.
Do you need to see a doctor?
If your menstrual cramps are unusual or severe, or if they last more than a few days, you may want to see your doctor. Painful period cramping is treatable, so anytime you're worried about your symptoms, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam to make sure everything is normal. They may also ask you questions about your menstrual period history, suggest lifestyle modifications, or even recommend and prescribe medicines that may help relieve your painful periods.