MN, M.D.: What Can I Do For Menstrual Cramps When Over-The-Counter Meds Don’t Work?

January 21, 2013  |  

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Q: Hello doctor, I have the worst cramps in the history of cramps when I’m on my period. Over the counter medicine doesn’t cut it anymore. What do you recommend?

A: About 50 to 90 percent of women who still have menstrual cycles experiences this type of pain, so a lot of us can relate to your pain!  Great news, though, as you increase in age, some of you may stop experiencing cramps all together.  Until then, here is the 411 on painful menstrual cramps.

What causes this? Well, hormones in your body, the same ones that happen during labor, are the major culprits. In fact, during the time you are experiencing this pain, you are actually having contractions! The same kind of contractions you would have when giving birth to a child, in fact, so this is a normal thing.

Menstrual cramps usually go away with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil is its brand name), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) or ketoprofen (Orudis).  It is best to start using these medications before the start of your menstrual cycle and continue as needed. If one kind of medication does not relieve the pain, then try another because these medications don’t work the same in everyone. Placing a heating pad on your lower belly or massaging the back and lower belly can also help.  Exercising on a regular basis has also been found to help in reducing menstrual cramps. Yoga, acupuncture, and even having orgasms (you heard right) may also help.

What happens if I have tried all that and it still does not go away?  Well, this may not be simple cramps then. Other conditions can be causing this extreme pain, like an infection, fibroids, or even the use of intrauterine devices (IUDs). Symptoms like pain with sex or abnormal bleeding usually are signs that this is not simple cramps. In this case, you should talk with your doctor about this. Your doctor can examine you and conduct tests to look for reasons why you are experiencing such pain; he or she can also prescribe medications like contraceptives or other pain medications to stop and/or relieve the cramps.

Disclaimer: The information contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not to be used for treatment purposes, but rather for discussion between you and your physician. Please consult your physician for further information in regards to your own general care.  Knowledge is power! Be informed.


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  • kierah

    For me, once the pain hit I’d get diarrhea, vomiting, and chills. At that point, I can’t take pills because nothing will stay down.
    As soon I get the twinge, I start with the OTC meds. If you can get your dr to prescribe high mgs of Motrin, go for it. Until the pills kick in, I can rest with a heating pad or one of those sticky heating pads. When that fails, I hit the showers. I sit in the shower with the warm water hitting my abdomen.
    I did develop a couple of fibroids in recent years, but the cramps have been a constant since onset of menses. No endometriosis either. Sometimes people just have more severe cramps than others.

  • Remember when my male Dr told me cramps were all in my head. At the time I told him my head wasn’t hurting, but he insisted I was wrong. Had pain with almost every period and over the counter medicines didn’t work either. The only cure was hysterectomy which brought on menopause and hot flashes. Can’t win in either case. smh

  • MyTwoCents

    I take a daily Black Cohosh supplement. It helps keeps the hormone from those major fluctuations and my cramps have diminished significantly.

    • Treacle234

      yes, i take black cohosh as well and my pms and menstrual symp are
      negligible. considering I use to get harsh cramps, lower back pain,
      bloating, diarrhea, vomiting all in the first day only.

  • Renee

    PMS Relief Herb Pack works like a miracle. The best thing I’ve ever found for cramps.

  • SheBe

    Endometriosis is also a major factor in severe menstrual cramps. I have endometriosis and fibroids. I’m going to undergo my second treatment starting tomorrow. I think this is somewhat of a silent issue in our community but good info nonetheless.

  • Nikki

    My mom had horrible cramps her whole life, to the point where she would vomit. At 48, she looked like she was 3 months pregnant. She almost went in for lipo until she found out that her uterus is FILLED with fibroids. So glad we got that fixed!