Menstrual Cramps Treatment Overview
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When to see a provider for menstrual cramps
You should consider seeing a healthcare provider, like your ob/gyn, if your menstrual cramps are not going away with OTC medications. Also see your ob/gyn if the pain is moderate to severe every month, or the menstrual cramps are interfering with your life. This is especially important if your cramps are causing you to miss school, work, or social activities.
There are prescription medications for menstrual cramps that your doctor can prescribe, like the birth control pill.
Some people get some relief with alternative therapies like acupuncture and acupressure. Acupuncture uses thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body and has been shown to reduce menstrual cramps. Acupressure (rubbing circles on your calf, four fingers up from inner ankle) can also relieve period pain.
Getting diagnosed for menstrual cramps
There are no tests for menstrual cramps. But severe cramps and pelvic pain can be a sign of other gynecological conditions like fibroids or endometriosis. Your doctor may want to do a pelvic exam and order imaging tests like an ultrasound or MRI to rule them out.
What to expect from your visit
- Your doctor may suggest taking hormonal birth control. This can prevent ovulation and thin the uterine lining, making your flow lighter and menstrual cramps less intense.
- You may be prescribed muscle relaxants or prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- If your menstrual cramps are caused by fibroids, endometriosis, or another condition, you may need a surgical procedure to treat it.
Prescription menstrual cramp medications
- Birth control pills
- Prescription-strength pain relievers such as ibuprofen
- Muscle relaxers like methocarbamol (Robaxin) and cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
Types of menstrual cramps providers
- A primary care provider can treat menstrual cramps.
- An obstetrician/gynecologist (ob/gyn) is a doctor who specializes in women’s health and may do additional testing and be more knowledgeable about treatment options.
How to treat menstrual cramps at home
There are many ways to treat menstrual cramps yourself. Many women get relief from OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). These should start to work in about 20–30 minutes.
You can also take medications that combine pain relievers like acetaminophen with caffeine, antihistamines, and diuretics (for bloating), like Midol and Pamprin.
There are home remedies for menstrual cramps like B vitamins (thiamine, vitamin B-6) and magnesium, which may soothe cramps by relaxing the muscles. Chamomile tea and ginger may help fight the inflammation and muscle spasms that cause pain.
Other lifestyle changes like relaxation techniques (deep breathing, yoga) and regular exercise may also reduce cramping.
Placing a hot water bottle or heating pad on your abdomen, and taking hot baths, can help relax the muscles that are causing cramps.
See a healthcare provider if home treatments aren’t helping, your symptoms are moderate to severe, or they are interfering with your life. They may be able to prescribe medications like birth control pills that help with menstrual cramps.
OTC treatments for menstrual cramps
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Acetaminophen/pyrilamine (Midol) or acetaminophen/pamabrom/pyrilamine (Pamprin) for PMS symptoms
- Supplements including vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, thiamine, vitamin B-6, and magnesium
- Natural remedies such as pycnogenol, fennel, chamomile tea, cinnamon, ginger, and dill may have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects.
Tips for getting rid of menstrual cramps at home
- Start taking ibuprofen at the beginning of your period or as soon as you notice symptoms. Continue taking them until the pain stops.
- Taking ibuprofen 1–2 days before your period starts may help prevent painful cramps.
- Exercise regularly.
- Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen, or take a hot bath.
- Lower stress by trying deep breathing, meditation, and yoga.
- Avoid certain foods that cause bloating and water retention, like fatty foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks, caffeine, and salty foods.