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Period Cramps

Twelve-year-old Cindy woke up one morning and felt familiar pain in her lower belly. She knew what it was and grumbled, "Oh, no. Here comes another period."

Cindy started her period over a year ago. She's learned to handle using pads and tampons, but the cramps are really bothering her. Sometimes Cindy feels so bad that all she can do is lie down.

Let's find out what cramps are and what to do if you're a girl who gets them.

What Are Period Cramps?

Lots of girls experience cramps before or during their periods. Cramps are caused by prostaglandins (say: pross-tuh-glan-dunz), chemicals a girl's body produces to make the muscles of the uterus contract. The contracting muscles help push the blood out through a girl's vagina during her period.

You probably know periods usually come once a month. Sometimes, younger girls aren't that regular, so they may skip a month. But as a girl's periods get more regular, cramps are more likely.

They can be mildly annoying to extremely painful, and they usually last for a few days. Cramps may worry some girls at first if they don't know they're often a normal part of having a monthly period.

Some girls are more likely to have cramps. They include:

Girls only: How much do you worry about getting period cramps?

It may seem weird that cramping would be genetic, but it appears to be true. If other girls and women in your family are crampers, you might be a cramper, too. You might want to ask a female relative — like your older sister, cousin, mom, aunt, or grandmother — if she had cramps with her periods. You'll still be cramping but at least you'll know you're not alone! And the good news is that cramps often get better the older you get.

Crush Those Cramps

In the meantime, a girl wants to stay comfortable. Some cramps are noticeable but don't really get in the way of a girl's normal routine. Other cramps might make a girl feel lousy and less able to do stuff. For bothersome cramps, a girl can talk with her mom or dad about taking a pain reliever. Check with a doctor to find out about pain relievers and other treatments that can reduce cramps.

If you get them, don't let cramps sneak up on you! It's best to start taking pain relievers slightly in advance of the cramps. Your mom or dad can help you decide when to start taking pain relievers and give you the correct dose of the medicine. A parent also can set a schedule so you can take another dose of pain reliever at the right time.

You'll want to take it before school, for instance, and maybe have it on hand at school so the nurse can give you a dose at the right time. By taking pain relievers on a schedule at the beginning of your period, you can keep cramps away so you can go about your normal day without feeling awful.

What else can you do? Exercise! Being physically active can ease cramps, probably because exercise releases endorphins, chemicals in the body that make you feel good. Eating right and getting enough sleep also can keep you feeling your best.

Some girls say putting a warm water bottle or compress on their belly helps them feel better if they have cramps. A nice warm bath is another option. Ahh ... feel those cramps just floating away.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011

Related Articles
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K    Do Periods Ever End?
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K    Getting Your Period at School
K    How Do Pain Relievers Work?
K    Pads and Tampons
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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