Menstrual cramps can be really uncomfortable and painful, but they do happen for a reason. During your period, your uterus contracts — meaning it squeezes or cramps up. This makes the lining come off the walls of your uterus and leave your body. When your uterus cramps up, it’s helping the period blood flow out of your vagina.
Most people get cramps during their periods at some point in their lives. They usually feel like throbbing pains in your lower belly. They can start a couple of days before your period comes, and sometimes continue throughout your period. Cramps are usually worse during the first few days of your period, when your flow is the heaviest.
You can get cramps as soon as you get your first period. Your periods may get more or less painful throughout your life. For many people, cramps become less painful as they grow older.
Menstrual cramps can be painful and irritating, but they’re super common and there are lots of ways to treat them.
What helps with cramps?
Here are a some things that can help ease cramps:
- Over-the-counter pain medicine like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Always follow the instructions on the bottle. Talk with your doctor before taking pain medication if you have an allergy to aspirin or severe asthma.
- Putting a heating pad on your belly or lower back.
- Taking a hot bath.
- Having an orgasm (by yourself or with a partner).
- Hormonal birth control (like the pill, patch, ring, implant, and hormonal IUD).
- Acupuncture and acupressure.
- Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) — therapy that uses mild electric currents to stimulate your nerves to relieve pain.
- Certain vitamins and herbs like vitamin B1, fish oil, fenugreek, ginger, valerian, zataria, and zinc sulfate.
Cramps are a pretty normal part of getting your period, but sometimes people have period cramps that are so painful it’s hard to do everyday things (like go to school or work). If your period pain is really bad, and over-the-counter medicine doesn’t help, talk with your doctor. They can help with other ways to manage the pain, or they may want to check to see if there’s something more serious going on.
Cramps that are really bad may be a sign of:
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease — an infection in your reproductive organs.
- Endometriosis — a condition where the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterus.
- Adenomyosis — when the tissue that lines your uterus grows into the muscle wall of your uterus.
- Uterine fibroids — non-cancerous tumors that grow inside your uterus, in the walls of your uterus, or on the outside of your uterus.
Cramps caused by these conditions may start when you’re older. And they might get worse as time passes. They can also last longer than other cramps or last longer than the last day of your period.
If you have super bad cramps that you can’t treat, or other period symptoms that are hard to deal with, call your doctor or local Planned Parenthood health center.
PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome — the emotional and physical symptoms that some people feel right before and during their periods. PMS is caused by the hormonal changes that your body goes through during your menstrual cycle.
Some people get PMS every time they have their periods. Others only get PMS every once in a while. You may have all or just some of the common PMS symptoms. And some people don’t get PMS at all.
There are two main kinds of PMS symptoms: the ones that affect you physically and the ones that affect you emotionally.
Physical symptoms of PMS include:
- Craving certain foods or being more hungry than usual
- Tender, swollen, or sore breasts
- Feeling bloated (puffy or full in your stomach)
- Gaining a little weight
- Swelling in your hands or feet
- Aches and pains in your joints or muscles
- Feeling more tired than usual or needing more naps
- Skin problems, like pimples
- Upset stomach
- Cramps or pain in your belly
Emotional symptoms of PMS include:
- Feeling sad, depressed, tense, or anxious
- Mood swings
- Feeling more irritable or angry than normal
- Crying suddenly
- Not feeling very social or wanting to be around people
- Having trouble concentrating
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Changes in your desire to have sex
It’s common to have some of these symptoms and not others. For example, you might have bloating and sore breasts, but not mood swings or skin problems. It may also change from month to month: you could be tired and cranky one month but not the next, or have cramps one month but not the next. It’s different for every person.
In order for a doctor to officially diagnose you with PMS, you need to have PMS symptoms for at least 3 months in a row. They must start in the 5 days before your period and interfere with some of your normal activities, like school, work, or exercise. If you think you may have PMS, keep a record of your period and symptoms each day for at least 2-3 months. You can use a calendar or our app to track your PMS symptoms.
Other conditions, like depression and anxiety, perimenopause, and thyroid disease can act like PMS, so visiting a doctor is the only way to know for sure what’s going on.
Some people have really severe PMS that’s called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). PMDD symptoms can be really scary and may include feeling out of control, depressed, having panic attacks, or even feeling suicidal. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of PMDD, see a doctor as soon as possible.
What I can do to relieve PMS?
Many of the things that help ease cramps can also help with PMS. Here are some different ways to relieve PMS symptoms:
- Take over-the-counter pain medicine like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Always follow the instructions on the bottle. Talk with your doctor before taking pain medication if you have an allergy to aspirin or severe asthma.
- Do aerobic exercise, like walking, running, riding a bike, swimming, or any activity that gets your heart rate up. Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes most days of the week) is ideal.
- Do breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.
- Get plenty of rest. Sleeping regularly every night can help with stress, mood changes, and feeling tired or fatigued.
- Eat healthy foods like fruits, veggies (especially the leafy green ones), whole grains, and yogurt.
- Limit fat, salt, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
- Make sure you get enough vitamins in your diet, or take vitamin supplements. If you don’t get enough calcium, take a supplement of 1200 mg of calcium daily. Magnesium and Vitamin E might also help.
- Use hormonal birth control (like the pill, patch, ring, implant, and hormonal IUD). Your doctor can help you find a birth control method that can help with PMS.