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What are Period Cramps?

Period cramps are the abdominal pain women experience during menstruation. Most women undergo monthly menstrual cycle after attaining puberty till menopause. These cycles are natural and last for 5 to 7 days. In this cycle, the lining of the uterus sheds and the residue is bled through the vagina. While this cycle goes on, the menstruating woman experiences pain, period cramps or abdominal and back cramps, and discomfort. When menstruation causes excessive pain, it is known as dysmenorrhoea. Different women experience different levels of pain. The level of pain is attributed to various factors like family history, age, lifestyle, menstrual disorders, etc. Let us take a look at the period pain and cramps in detail here.

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What Is Period Pain?

Women experience menstruation, a natural cycle wherein the lining of the uterus sheds, once a month. Abdominal and back cramps, pain, and discomfort are very normal during this time. While it lasts for seven days at the most, the initial 2-3 days can be distressing and can cause you to miss out on work or school.

When menstruation causes excessive pain, it is known as dysmenorrhoea. There are two types of dysmenorrhoea:

1. Primary Dysmenorrhoea:

It occurs when you experience excessive pain before and during the menstruation cycle.

2. Secondary Dysmenorrhoea:

If you had normal periods in the initial years that become painful later in life, it is known as secondary dysmenorrhoea. Underlying health conditions in women, such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids, can lead to this.

In this section, we have discussed everything you need to know about period pains. Moreover, we have also mentioned some medical treatments and home remedies for women to relieve menstrual cramps. Let us begin by understanding the cause of excessive period pain.

Causes of Painful Period Pain

Women produce a hormone known as prostaglandin that triggers muscle contraction in the uterus. Because of these contractions, the uterine lining sheds and can cause pain and inflammation. Ideally, the prostaglandin levels rise before the menstruation cycle begins.

You cannot always determine the cause of painful period cramps, which include:

  • A family history of painful periods

  • Lifestyle habits such as heavy smoking and drinking

  • Heavy bleeding during periods

  • Irregular periods

Apart from these causes, the following are more likely to experience period pains:

  • Women below 20 years of age

  • Those that have never borne a child

  • Those who reached puberty before age 11

Additionally, excessive period pain can also be due to some underlying health conditions. These include:

1. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

PMS is a common condition among women and is caused due to hormonal changes. These hormonal fluctuations occur 1-2 weeks before the menstrual cycle begins. The symptoms of PMS improve once the cycle starts.

2. Endometriosis

It is an extremely painful and discomforting situation wherein the cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other body parts, such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or tissue lining of the pelvis.

3. Fibroids in the Uterus

It is a non-cancerous tumour that tends to pressurise the uterus and/or lead to abnormal periods and excessive pain. There are no exclusive symptoms for this condition.

4. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

It is an infection in the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. PID is usually caused due to sexually transmitted bacteria, which can lead to inflammation of the reproductive organs and excessive pain during periods.

5. Adenomyosis

It is a rare condition wherein the uterine lining grows into a muscular wall. Adenomyosis causes inflammation, pressure, and painful periods. Further, it can also lead to longer and heavier period cycles.

6. Cervical Stenosis

Another rare condition, wherein the cervix is so small or narrow that it slows the menstrual flow. This increases the pressure inside the uterus, causing pain and inflammation.

7. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal disorder suffered by a majority of women in India. It leads to irregular periods, causing infrequent and/or prolonged menstrual cycles. However, when women with PCOS get their periods, they can often experience heavy bleeding, clots, and severe period pains.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If menstrual cramps interfere with your ability to perform routine tasks every month, you should consult a gynaecologist. Also, you can talk to your doctor if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Constant pain after a intrauterine device (IUD) placement

  • Passing blood clots


    Excessive pelvic pain in the absence of periods


  • Any cycle interfering with work and daily activities must be evaluated

Abrupt pain and cramps in the pelvic region can be a sign of infection. If not treated on time, the infection can damage the pelvic organs and cause infertility. Some common symptoms of pelvic infection are as follows:

  • Fever

  • Severe pain in the pelvic region

  • Sudden pain, especially in pregnant women

  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge

Your doctor will diagnose the condition and recommend appropriate treatment for the same.

Diagnosis of Period Pain

Period pain should be diagnosed to understand the underlying health conditions. Your doctor is likely to seek your medical history and perform some physical examinations. This includes a pelvic exam to check for abnormalities in the reproductive system and infection.

If the doctor suggests that your period pain is due to underlying medical issues, imaging tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI are recommended. Depending on the results of these tests, the doctor can order a laparoscopy. It is a test wherein a small incision is made into the abdomen and a fibre-optic tube is inserted with a camera at the end to observe the abdominal cavity.

Treatment for Period Pain

Depending on the degree of menstrual pain, the doctor can recommend medical treatment or home remedies for period pain relief.

Medical attention during period pains depends on the severity of the underlying medical condition. In case PID or sexually transmitted diseases are causing painful periods, doctors can prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. A few medications prescribed by doctors are as follows:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Pain relievers

On the other hand, doctors can also recommend hormonal birth control. These are available in a pill, patch, vaginal ring, injection, implant, or IUD. Typically, these prevent ovulation, which helps manage menstrual cramps.

If you are suffering from uterine fibroids or endometriosis, doctors can recommend surgery. However, this option is only recommended when other treatments are ineffective. For rare medical conditions, a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) is suggested. However, know that you won’t be able to have children if you undergo this surgery.

Home Remedies For Period Pain Relief

Period pain ameliorates effectively with several home remedies. Some effective home remedies for instant period pain relief are as follows:

1. Applying Heat

Placing a heated pad on your abdomen/lower back region can help relieve period pain. In case you do not have an electrical heating pad, you can take a warm bath or use a hot towel.

2. Massaging With Essential Oils

Essential oils are a traditional period pain relief method known to Indians. In fact, researchers have observed that massaging with these oils can reduce menstrual cramps immediately. You can use a blend of lavender, clary sage, and marjoram oil for massaging your abdominal area or your lower back.

3. Avoid Certain Foods

If you are in the middle of your period cycle or are approaching it, it is best to avoid foods that cause bloating and water retention. Some of these include:

  • Fatty foods

  • Alcohol-based beverages

  • Carbonated beverages

  • Caffeine

  • Salty foods

Reducing or avoiding these foods can help alleviate period cramps. Instead, you can consume soothing beverages such as ginger or mint tea, hot water with lemon, etc. You can also consume overnight soaked raisins empty stomach in the morning, as they are high in flavonoids. Moreover, you can eat fresh fruits as well.

Tips to Maintain Regular & Painless Period Cycles

Following are a few healthy lifestyle practices that help maintain regular and painless menstrual cycles.

1. Exercising Regularly

It is highly advised to do minimal exercise to reduce menstrual pain without having to take any period pain medicine. You can do yoga or take a small walk around your house to relieve the pain during this time.

2. Reduce Alcohol Intake and Quit Smoking

Lifestyle habits such as drinking alcohol-based beverages and smoking can cause severe menstrual cramps. Therefore, it is recommended to completely avoid or reduce these habits over time to regularise your period cycles.

3. Manage Stress

Emotional or mental stress caused due to work-life imbalance or family issues can lead to painful periods. You can try relaxation activities such as meditation and yoga sequences to relieve stress and reduce the severity of period pains.


Period pain can be very distressing. While it is applaudable for women to work through this, menstrual cramps can be concerning in some cases. If the pain is unbearable or constant in each cycle, consult a doctor immediately.

Underlying medical conditions that cause excessive period pain can be overwhelming to deal with, physically, mentally, or financially. Thus, having an adequate health insurance plan that covers these health conditions will allow you to seek medical treatments whenever needed without having to worry about the expenses.  

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