Munson Health
Painful Menstrual Periods

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by Shannon DW

(Dysmenorrhea; Menstrual Cramps)


Risk Factors

Painful menstrual periods are more common in women under age 30 years. Other factors that may increase your risk of having painful menstrual periods include:
You are also at risk if you have a related condition, such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts.


The pain associated with either primary or secondary dysmenorrhea may be sharp and throbbing or dull and aching. It is most typically located in the lower abdomen and may spread to the low back or thighs. Other symptoms may include:

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor if you have:
  • Severe or unusual cramps
  • Cramps that last for more than a few days
  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • Cramps with heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Abdominal or pelvic tenderness
  • Vaginal discharge other than menstrual bleeding
Also, call you doctor if you are having vaginal bleeding or pain and are unsure if it is related to menstruation.


Primary dysmenorrhea is usually treated with medications and lifestyle changes.
The treatment of secondary dysmenorrhea varies depending on the underlying condition.

Other Treatments

  • Heat therapy—Heating pads, warm baths, or continuous low-level heat patches may help to ease discomfort.
  • Exercising regularly may help to reduce menstrual cramps.
  • Find out if alternative treatments are a good option for you, for example:
    • Some herbs and supplements may be helpful, such as vitamin B1, magnesium, and Chinese herbal medicine. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbs and supplements. They may interact with your other medications and conditions.
    • Acupuncture may also help to reduce pain.


American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—American Academy of Family Physicians



Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Women's Health Matters



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