Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Dysmenorrhea (Painful Menstrual Cramps)
Painful menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are one of the most common
reasons for women to seek medical attention. During the menstrual cycle, the
lining of the uterus produces a hormone called prostaglandin, which causes the
uterus to contract, often painfully.
Besides mild to severe cramping in the lower belly, symptoms of
painful menstrual cramps include headaches, nausea, and diarrhea or
Primary dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful menstrual
cramping with no recognized physical cause. It is most commonly seen in women
between the ages of 20 and 24. It usually goes away after 1 to 2 years, when
hormonal balance occurs. Secondary dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe
painful menstrual cramping caused by a physical 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
A woman may be able to relieve menstrual cramps by:
Treatment depends on the cause. Menstrual cramps may be
relieved with over-the-counter pain medicine. Some women need hormone
treatment, such as birth control pills, to bring their hormones into
Current as of:
November 14, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.