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What is dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for menstrual cramps, or the pain that many women have just before or at the beginning of their periods. This pain usually is not serious.
What are the symptoms of menstrual cramps?
Menstrual cramps can feel like a dull ache or a shooting pain. They most often occur in your lower stomach. You may also feel them in your lower back, hips or thighs. The pain may start before your period or when your period begins. Menstrual cramps last about 1 to 3 days. The pain may be bad enough to keep you from doing your normal activities.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes dysmenorrhea?
There are two types of dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is pain caused by common menstrual cramps. Secondary dysmenorrhea is pain caused by a disease or condition. This could include:
- an infection
- ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs in your ovary)
- endometriosis (a problem with the lining of your uterus).
How is dysmenorrhea diagnosed?
Most of the time, people do not need to see a healthcare provider for menstrual cramps. This may be different if you have severe, lasting pain or pain that is new or different. In these cases, your healthcare provider may want to do a physical exam, pelvic exam, or tests. These can help diagnose or rule out the cause of your pain. An ultrasound test lets your healthcare provider see if you have ovarian cysts. A laparoscopy can check for endometriosis. In this minor surgery, the healthcare provider makes a small cut in your low stomach. Then, they insert a thin tube to look inside your uterus.
Can dysmenorrhea be prevented or avoided?
Menstrual cramps and pain cannot be prevented or avoided.
At-home treatment is available. The goal is to relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter medicines can reduce pain. These include ibuprofen (brand names: Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (brand name: Aleve). You also can try using heating pads or taking a warm bath.
Talk to your healthcare provider if these don’t help. They may suggest a stronger pain reliever. They may want you to try using birth control pills or a birth control shot. These can help make your periods less painful.
Living with dysmenorrhea
Menstrual cramps are painful but can be managed with treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms:
- painful periods that start later in life
- pain at times other than the first couple days of your period
- abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
- pain that doesn’t go away when you take medicine to relieve it.