Period cramps refer to painful sensations that people may experience before or during their period. In some cases, the discomfort can be so severe that it affects daily activities. However, there are many options available that may help provide relief from painful periods.

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Dysmenorrhea is a medical term that refers to a specific condition where a person experiences severe and frequent painful cramps during their period. Research suggests that 16–90% of people who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea, with up to 29% describing the pain as severe.

Painful periods are a common problem, and the pain can range from dull and bothersome to so extreme that it may affect daily life and activities. Usually, the pain is present in the lower abdomen and lower back.

This article provides a list of potential remedies that may help manage symptoms of painful period cramps.

Menstruation typically occurs roughly every 28 days between puberty and menopause, except during pregnancy. During menstruation, body chemicals called prostaglandins prompt the muscles of the womb to contract irregularly.

This motion encourages the womb to expel excess tissue and blood, which builds up in preparation for pregnancy. The excess lining flows out of the body along with menstrual blood.

When the womb contracts, it can cause cramps or throbbing pains in the lower belly. People may start feeling cramps a day or two before their period starts. Period cramps tend to last for a few days. Everyone who menstruates experiences these contractions; however, some people do not notice them, while others experience severe discomfort.

In roughly 10% of people who menstruate, painful periods interfere with their ability to carry out their normal daily activities for up to 3 days a month.

Period pain is usually worse in people under 20 and may get better or even go away entirely within a few years of their first period. For others, period pain may become milder after the birth of their first child.

In some cases, people may experience dysmenorrhea, which is the medical term for painful menstrual periods. Dysmenorrhea can be either primary or secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is a lower abdominal pain during the menstrual cycle that does not relate to other conditions. Secondary dysmenorrhea is period pain that stems from a medical problem, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease.

If cramping pain begins to interrupt daily life, then a doctor or another healthcare professional may be able to help.

Learn more about period cramps here.

Period cramps are a widespread, painful sensation that many people who menstruate experience at some point in their lives. Many individuals may find relief by using natural remedies, such as:

  • Exercise: Research suggests that more physically active people are less likely to experience a painful period. Exercise can help reduce the pain of period cramps by reducing beta-endorphins and promoting blood circulation in the pelvis. Even regular brisk walking can make a difference in menstrual pain, particularly if a person does it at the beginning of their period.
  • Heat: A 2018 systematic review indicates that heat can help decrease menstrual pain. Using hot water bottles or cloths or soaking in a hot bath are inexpensive ways to help alleviate period cramps.
  • Acupuncture: This therapeutic practice uses fine needles inserted along specific lines in the body to stimulate the nervous system and relieve pain. Evidence indicates that it may be a helpful alternative therapy for painful periods.
  • Herbs: While there is limited evidence to support this, some research suggests that some herbs and medicinal plants may help relieve period cramps.

Click here to learn more about home remedies for period pain.

Period cramps are widespread and come with varying degrees of severity. Many people may benefit from OTC remedies, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and dietary supplements.

NSAIDs may help reduce the pain of period cramps and lower levels of prostaglandins. However, more research is necessary to show the effectiveness and safety.

Some people may experience significant pain from period cramps. If the other methods do not provide relief, then a doctor may prescribe:

  • Hormonal birth control: People who are not currently seeking to become pregnant can use birth control pills to reduce the pain of period cramps. This works because birth control pills thin the womb lining and reduce the amount of prostaglandin the body produces.
  • Glyceryl trinitrate patches: This medication increases nitric oxide levels, promoting muscle relaxation and reducing pain but may result in severe headaches.
  • Calcium channel blockers: These medications can also relax muscles, although flushing, headaches, and an increased heart rate are possible side effects.

Learn about the most common side effects of birth control pills here.

Some frequently asked questions about period cramps may include:

Are there any foods good for period cramps?

Some research suggests that eating a diet rich in fish, fruit, vegetables, and eggs can help reduce the likelihood of period cramps. A diet rich in magnesium may also work against muscle spasms. High fiber, low-salt, and vegetarian diets may lower prostaglandin production and result in fewer cramps.

Learn more about what to eat during a period here.

What dietary supplements help period cramps?

2016 review notes that some supplements, such as fish oil, vitamin B1, zinc, and vitamin E, may help reduce the pain of period cramps. Research from 2014 also indicates that vitamin B1 can help reduce the pain of period cramps, and another 2014 study states that fish oil may help provide relief. Other evidence highlights the potential role of magnesium in reducing period pain.

Learn more about vitamins and supplements here.

Can essential oils help period cramps?

Some essential oils may help ease the discomfort of period cramps. A 2016 study suggests that rose essential oil may help alleviate menstrual pain.

Learn all about essential oils here.

Most people will experience painful periods at some point in their lives. This is typically due to period cramps, which are painful contractions that allow the body to shed the uterus lining.

Even though the discomfort from period cramps can be significant, individuals can often find relief with self-care and OTC remedies, such as gentle exercise, heat treatments, and NSAIDs. Herbs, dietary changes, essential oils, and acupuncture may also help. If these treatments are not effective, doctors can prescribe medications that can help to manage symptoms.