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Unless you live in a tampon commercial, you probably don’t feel so hot while on your period. For some women, it’s just a small inconvenience. For others, it comes with an entire plate of lovely symptoms: bloating, aches, fatigue, irritability, and, of course, cramps. Each month, when your uterus sheds its blood lining, it can seem as if your entire lower body is rebelling against you.

“Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are pains in the abdomen or pelvic area experienced by a woman before or during her menstrual period,” says Mary Clarkin, a Cleveland-based women’s health nurse practitioner. “The pain may be may be mild to severe and described as dull, throbbing or cramping. It may be merely annoying or so painful that performing everyday activities is compromised.” In the latter group? Read on for tips and tricks from collegiettes and our expert about how to get rid of your cramps and prevent them from happening in the first place.

Why do we get cramps?

“The pain is caused when muscles of the uterus tighten,” Clarkin says. Every time you get your period, your body releases prostaglandins, a hormone that makes your uterus contract, which allows your body to rid itself of blood—useful, but often painful. There are two types of cramps: what doctors call “primary dysmenorrhea” and “secondary dysmenorrhea.” The primary kind is your typical run-of-the-mill period cramps. “Secondary dysmenorrhea, pain caused by a disorder of the reproductive organs, usually begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts longer than primary dysmenorrhea. Endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and fibroids are a few conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhea,” Clarkin says. If your cramps last longer than a few days and are causing you severe pain, see a doctor in case you have secondary dysmenorrhea. The following tips in this article are for girls suffering from typical menstrual cramps, so see a doctor for help managing more serious cramps.

Step One: Try a painkiller

Like many aches and pains, menstrual cramps are also often effectively reduced with the use of an NSAID, or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Many girls use Midol, which contains acetaminophen, also a painkiller. Taking an NSAID the day you expect your period to come, or a few days before, can really help stop the cramping before it starts. “During a period the uterus contracts causing pain. There is also an increase in hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which are involved in pain and inflammation. These medications counteract the increase in prostaglandin activity,” Clarkin says. Follow the bottle’s instructions (take with food!) and keep count of how many you take in a day so you don’t overdose, which can harm your liver. These drugs don’t work immediately, though. If you want supplementary relief or if you’d prefer to go drug-free, go to step two.

Step Two: Get hot

Heat is a wonderful, completely natural way to soothe your cramps. According to Clarkin, heat helps the muscles in your pelvis relax. Many collegiettes recommend sipping on some hot tea. “Hot tea works for me. My mom said she used it back in the day and it works for me now,” says Mariah, a collegiette from Virginia State University. Try a calming herbal tea like chamomile, lavender or peppermint. Or, take North Carolina State collegiette Misha’s advice: “This really works for me: boil cinnamon sticks in water and put in a little sugar. Drink it as a tea and that really helps!” Beyond tea, there are other ways to calm your system. Try a hot bath or use a heating pad or hot water bottle, says Harvard collegiette Kema. Get in bed and put something hot right over your lower abdomen for quick, soothing relief. You can buy heating pads and hot water bottles at your local drug store, or make your own! Simply get an old sock, fill it with uncooked white rice, tie it up and microwave for one or two minutes.


Step Three: Get moving

Although it may seem like getting out of bed is the last thing you want to do when cramps strike, it might be the best thing for you. According to Clarkin, exercise is a great home remedy, though doctors haven’t yet pinpointed why. “Exercise helps your body produce endorphins, but it’s also just a good distraction [from the pain],” she says. “Dancing, cardio, and a lot of muscle conditioning have always kept my body in check, and they’re activities that have been especially useful for me when I do cramp up,” says University of Chicago collegiette Annie. “It’s tough for the first few minutes, but you just need to get into your workout and then your cramps go away. A lot of the time, they’re even less intense after you finish working out as well.” No need to run to the gym though—click here for quick exercises you can do in your dorm room. Another way to get the endorphins flowing? Believe it or not—having sex. “It sounds surprising, but sex always helps me! Because endorphins act as natural painkillers, any sort of stimulation can help relieve cramps,” Elizabeth, a student at University of Virginia, says. That being said, you should probably stick to this remedy before your period comes or when it is winding down and very light (or try the shower) to avoid a mess.

Step Four: Monitor your diet

During your period, your entire system can be a little off-kilter. Because of all of the hormonal shifts that are going on inside of you, pre-existing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome can be exacerbated during menstruation. Even if you don’t have a sensitive stomach, your period can trigger diarrhea and constipation. “Avoid foods that contain caffeine or salt. An increase in salt causes the body to retain more water, causing bloating in the abdomen. Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or tea, may disrupt the blood supply to muscles leading to more cramping pain,” Clarkin says. So when you’re looking for hot drinks, skip the latte until your period is over. A soothing herbal tea will give you the heat you want without the side effects. Avoiding salty and fatty foods is also incredibly helpful. So put down the cheeseburger and try something a bit healthier. Bananas and oats are two foods known for their cramp-fighting powers, so whip yourself up a bowl of oatmeal with sliced banana to soothe your stomach.

What if nothing seems to work?

If you’ve tried heat, eating well, light exercise and painkillers and nothing is working, see your doctor. “If menstrual cramps disrupt your life for several days a month, or the cramping becomes severe or unusual, you should contact your healthcare provider for evaluation,” Clarkin says. There are tons of remedies for cramps: your gynecologist or primary care doctor can prescribe you birth control, which helps alleviate cramps for many women. Doctors can also prescribe stronger painkillers if a typical NSAID is not effective. Further, if your cramps are particularly severe (like when you’re missing several classes each month because of them), that could be an indication of secondary dysmenorrhea, which warrants further medical attention.


So when cramps sneak up on you, try some of these tips to get relief! And remember, they do go away within a few days.

Katie was the former Senior Associate Editor of Her Campus. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2015, where she studied Writing Seminars, psychology, and women's studies. Prior to joining the full-time staff, Katie was a national contributing writer and Health Editor for HC. In addition to her work with Her Campus, Katie interned at Cleveland Magazine, EMILY's List, and the National Partnership for Women & Families. Katie is also an alumna of Kappa Alpha Theta. In her spare time, Katie enjoys writing poetry, hanging out with cats, eating vegan cupcakes, and advocating for women's rights.