Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief, such as ibuprofen, may help treat cramps before and during the menstrual cycle. Doctors may also recommend other home remedies, such as dietary changes and heat therapy.

Menstrual cramps range in severity from person to person. Healthcare professionals refer to pain that only occurs with menstruation as primary dysmenorrhea.

Some people may use medications, home remedies, or alternative treatments to help manage their cramps.

This article looks at treatment for menstrual cramps, including medications, home care, diet, and alternative remedies. It also discusses prevention methods and when to contact a doctor.

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An article from 2022 suggests the goal of treatment for menstrual cramps is to provide adequate pain relief so that a person can perform their usual activities. This may improve their quality of life and decrease absenteeism from education or work.

The cause of cramping is usually too many prostaglandins, which cause the uterus muscles to tighten and relax. This pain can start a day or two before the period and may last a few days.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

The article proposes that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a first-line treatment for cramps.

Examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen. NSAIDs relieve pain and reduce the amount of prostaglandins that the uterus makes to lessen their effects, such as cramps.

Hormonal contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives are another option. These also block the production of prostaglandins and suppress ovulation. Healthcare professionals may recommend these for people who need contraception and can safely use it or those who cannot tolerate or are not responsive to NSAIDs.


Acetaminophen is another option for people who do not wish to use hormonal contraceptives and cannot tolerate NSAIDs. It also reduces prostaglandin production and doctors consider it safe. However, some people may not tolerate acetaminophen as well as other OTC pain medications.

Studies have also found that acetaminophen is less effective compared with NSAIDs and hormonal contraceptives. It may be the preferred method for mild-to-moderate cramps.

It is best for a person to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable pain relief for them.

Learn more about medications for menstrual cramps.

Home remedies that may help with menstrual cramps include:

  • using a heating pad or hot water bottle on the lower abdomen
  • exercising
  • taking a hot bath
  • doing relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation

What the research says

A 2018 study suggested that heat therapy was effective for menstrual cramps, but more trials are necessary to confirm this.

A different 2018 study proposed physical activity as an effective complementary treatment for menstrual pain, but further research is also required in this area.

According to a 2017 study, certain yoga programs may be a possible complementary treatment for menstrual cramps. This specific program used in the study was 30 minutes per day twice a week.

People may try these home care measures alongside other treatments, and some may be more effective than others, depending on the person.

Learn more about home remedies for menstrual cramps.

A 2018 study suggested that the following foods may increase the risk of dysmenorrhea:

  • salt
  • sugars, including sweets and desserts
  • tea and coffee
  • fruit juices
  • added fat

According to a 2016 study, there was a higher rate of menstrual cramps among people who did not consume olive oil daily.

This may indicate the anti-inflammatory potential of olive and fish oil and its effects on the production of prostaglandins. However, anecdotally, people report that consuming too much oil may cause other health issues.

Some 2018 research associated vegetarian diets or consuming fruits and vegetables with decreased estrogen and reduced frequency of period pain. This may suggest the possible effects of consuming red meat on menstrual pain, but limited research has explored these claims.

Researchers need to undertake further studies in this area to provide more conclusive dietary recommendations to help reduce the risk of menstrual pain.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional or dietitian about possible foods to eat and avoid during their period. However, a healthcare professional will not be able to recommend specific diets as there is no evidence that these will reduce cramping.

Read more about foods to eat during a period.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends a person consult a healthcare professional if:

People should also consult their healthcare professional if they notice large blood clots in their menstrual flow and if pain happens before and during periods and when they are not menstruating.

A doctor can offer advice and recommend alternative treatments if OTC medications do not help with cramps.

Other possible conditions

Healthcare professionals refer to menstrual cramps that result from another condition as secondary dysmenorrhea.

Possible conditions that cause this include:

Secondary dysmenorrhea may worsen over time. It may begin before the period starts and continue after the period ends.

A person should consult a healthcare professional if they think they may have any of the above conditions as they require a specific diagnosis and treatment.

Menstrual cramps occur during or before the cycle starts. People may be able to treat pain with OTC medications such as ibuprofen. Others may use hormonal contraceptives to manage pain. Acetaminophen is a safe alternative to both.

Home remedies such as applying heat, exercising, and practicing relaxation techniques may also help ease pain. Alternative treatments include acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is best for people to speak with a medical professional to determine if this is a suitable complementary treatment for them.

Research on diet is ongoing, but current findings suggest a diet including fruits and vegetables may decrease prostaglandin production and reduce cramping. Possible foods to avoid may include sugary, salty, and fatty foods.

It is best for people to consult a healthcare professional if their periods become heavier, more painful, or irregular. If they notice pain is occurring outside of their cycle, it may also signal a secondary condition. In this situation, it is important for people to speak with a healthcare professional to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment.