Menstrual cramps

Fast facts about menstrual cramps

  • Menstrual cramping is the most common gynaecological problem in women of all ages and races31
  • Up to 90% of women suffer from menstrual cramps although estimates vary widely31
  • 70% of girls in a study described their menstrual cramps as moderate to severe32
  • 1 in 10 women experience such severe pain that they are unable to carry out their usual daily activities on 1-3 days every month33
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, provide effective relief of menstrual cramps31

Menstrual cramps are caused by prostaglandins that cause the uterus to contract and expel its lining (menstruation).34 The cramping pain in the lower abdomen could start a few days before the period and will peak about 24 hours after the period begins.34 It may then take another 2 or 3 days before the cramps subside.34 Pain can radiate to the lower back and thighs and may be accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, headache, dizziness and loose stools.34


Many women find that soaking in a warm bath or applying a heating pad to the lower abdomen area, helps relieve some of the discomforts.35 Regular exercise and stress reduction are also known to improve symptoms.35

Would an analgesic be of value?

Yes, over-the-counter analgesics containing NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, can help control the pain.35 Start taking these the day before you expect your period to start or as soon as you feel symptoms.35 Continue taking them as directed for two to three days, or until your symptoms are gone.35

Birth control pills

Birth control pills contain hormones that prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of cramps.35

When to contact a doctor

Speak to your doctor if the pain is bad enough to disrupt your life consistently every month, or if the pains have become more severe after the age of 25.34

Frequently asked questions