What causes period cramps?

What causes period cramps?

Period cramps suck. Over 80% of women experience period pain in their lifetime, sometimes sitting out games, missing shots they should’ve made, and staying in bed when they’d rather be training. You know they can ruin your week, but what causes this monthly pain?

The blood you see during the period is the lining of the uterus being shed (read more about the menstrual cycle here). To start the period, the uterus contracts because of hormones called prostaglandins. Period pain, medically known is dysmenorrhea, is the product of muscle contractions in the uterus. You may experience the worst cramping at the beginning of your period because prostaglandins are the highest on the first day of bleeding. This hormone is made in the lining of the uterus, so as the lining is shed throughout the period, there are fewer prostaglandins produced, meaning fewer cramps. 

What can be done to treat period cramps?

  • NSAIDS- over the counter pain relievers such as Advil can target prostaglandins
  • Exercise- movement produces endorphins which are natural pain relievers 
  • Heat- taking a warm bath or applying a heating pad can relax muscles
  • Sleep- sleep helps your body recover and may make coping with pain easier

While period cramps may be common, if they are especially severe, a test such as an ultrasound or a laparoscopy may be done to determine a greater cause such as endometriosis or fibroids. See your OBGYN if you experience severe discomfort regarding your menstrual health. 


Dysmenorrhea. (n.d.) Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved November 14, 2023 from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/dysmenorrhea 

Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods. (Last updated December 2020). American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/dysmenorrhea-painful-periods#:~:text=This%20pain%20is%20caused%20by,level%20of%20prostaglandins%20is%20high

Grandi, G., Ferrari, S., Xholli, A., Cannoletta, M., Palma, F., Romani, C., Volpe, A., & Cagnacci, A. (2012). Prevalence of menstrual pain in young women: what is dysmenorrhea?. Journal of pain research, 5, 169–174. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S30602

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022 April 30). Menstrual Cramps. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/symptoms-causes/syc-20374938 

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