Painful Periods

Menstrual pain affects a large number of women. It usually begins when menstrual bleeding starts, or a few hours before, and generally lasts 2 to 3 days. The pain, often characterized by stomach cramping, can also radiate to the back and legs, and may be accompanied by nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue or headache. Symptoms usually start during adolescence and decrease with age.


During menstruation, substances called prostaglandins form in the lining of the uterus and trigger muscle contractions, causing pain and discomfort. Prostaglandins may also contribute to the diarrhea and nausea that some women experience during their period.


At-home treatments include applying heat (e.g., heating pad or hot water bottle) to the abdomen, taking a hot bath, or exercising.

To help alleviate menstrual pain, your pharmacist may also recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever (e.g., Advil®, Aleve®). Other medications, such as birth control (e.g., birth control pill, vaginal ring, IUD), require a prescription. Speak to your healthcare provider for more information.

When should I see a medical professional?

  • If over-the-counter pain relievers are not effective
  • If symptoms worsen
  • If you experience similar pain while you do not have your period
  • If you have abnormal vaginal discharge or a change in flow or type of bleeding