Painful menstrual periods are periods in which a woman has crampy lower abdominal pain, which can be sharp or aching and come and go. Back pain and/or leg pain may also be present.
Some pain during your period is normal, but a large amount of pain is not. The medical term for painful menstrual periods is dysmenorrhea.
Menstruation - painful; Dysmenorrhea; Periods - painful; Cramps - menstrual; Menstrual cramps
Many women have painful periods. Sometimes, the pain makes it hard to do normal household, job, or school-related activities for a few days during each menstrual cycle. Painful menstruation is the leading cause of lost time from school and work among women in their teens and 20s.
Painful menstrual periods fall into two groups, depending on the cause:
Primary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that occurs around the time that menstrual periods first begin in otherwise healthy young women. In most cases, this pain is not related to a specific problem with the uterus or other pelvic organs. Increased activity of the hormone prostaglandin, which is produced in the uterus, is thought to play a role in this condition.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that develops later in women who have had normal periods. It is often related to problems in the uterus or other pelvic organs, such as:
The following steps may help you to avoid prescription medicines:
If these self-care measures do not work, your health care provider may offer you treatment such as:
Call your provider right away if you have:
Also call if:
Your provider will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms.
Tests and procedures that may be done include:
Treatment depends on what is causing your pain.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dysmenorrhea: painful periods. FAQ046. www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Dysmenorrhea-Painful-Periods. Updated January 2022. Accessed August 8, 2022.
Mendiratta V, Lentz GM. Primary and secondary dysmenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder: etiology, diagnosis, management. In: Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, Lobo RA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 35.
Pattanittum P, Kunyanone N, Brown J, et al. Dietary supplements for dysmenorrhea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;3(3):CD002124. PMID: 27000311 www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27000311/.
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.