Painful menstrual cramps are one of the most common complaints of women in their childbearing years. There are two categories of painful periods, one being pain without and underlying cause, and the other being painful periods due to a condition such as fibroids, endometriosis, or adenomyosis.
Women with painful periods without an underlying cause typically start having painful periods in adolescence. Pain is thought to occur due to the release of chemicals called prostaglandins during the menstrual cycle. Prostaglandins cause contractions of the muscles of the uterus, similar to contractions felt during labor. Prostaglandins can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and headaches. Treatments for this type of painful menstrual cramps include the use of non-steroidal antiflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, birth control pills, or a hormone-releasing intrauterine device (Mirena).