The short answer
Ibuprofen is a painkiller that belongs to a group of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It acts by reducing the production of prostaglandins which are responsible for uterine contractions. Therefore, ibuprofen is found to be effective in relieving menstrual cramps.
- Menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea are cramps in the lower abdomen that occur during a woman’s period.
- These cramps result from uterine contractions induced by prostaglandins
- Ibuprofen as a painkiller belongs to the NSAID that has anti-inflammatory action. It works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins.
- Ibuprofen is considered a good choice for menstrual cramps. It reduces prostaglandin production and as a result, it can help to reduce uterus contraction. Therefore, it can reduce menstrual cramps.
- For menstrual cramps, ibuprofen of a dose of 400 mg every 4 hours for the first few days of the period is used or as needed.
- It was found that ibuprofen is more effective than paracetamol for menstrual cramps.
- Ibuprofen is also found to be effective in reducing menstrual blood loss.
- Non-pharmacological treatments for menstrual cramps include hot compress, regular exercise, aroma therapy, and home remedies such as cinnamon, lemon, and ginger
What are menstrual cramps and why do they happen?
Menstrual cramps also known as dysmenorrhea means cramps at the lower abdomen. These cramps are a common symptom during a woman’s period that typically lasts for 2–3 days. Symptoms of the mensural period may vary among women. Some women may have very bad cramps others may have no cramps.
Menstrual cramps occur when prostaglandin induces uterus contraction. Therefore, during the menstrual period, the blood levels of prostaglandin are found to be higher. Accordingly, the uterus contractions are stronger. These cramps are painful and associated with discomfort feeling (Ref).
The prostaglandin blood levels increase before menstruation begins and then decrease once the menstruation ends. As a result, menstrual cramps often ease up a few days after the menstrual period.
What are the causes of the menstrual cramps?
Dysmenorrhea or menstrual cramps can be attributed to the following:
- The uterine squeeze to shed its lining during the period can cause cramps.
- When you have heavy or long periods, bad cramps may result.
- Smoking, excess fat, and drinking alcohol can worsen menstrual cramps.
- Other diseases can make the menstrual cramps worse.
Is it bad to take ibuprofen for menstrual cramps?
Ibuprofen as an NSAID is commonly used to relieve menstrual cramps. It acts by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase enzyme that is responsible for the formation of prostaglandins from arachidonic acid.
The menstrual cramps are associated with elevated blood levels of prostaglandins. Ibuprofen can help to reduce prostaglandin blood levels, therefore, it helps with menstrual cramps.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe you higher doses of ibuprofen than the OTC doses for menstrual cramps.
It is better to take ibuprofen as soon as the menstrual cramps start.
A randomized crossover study investigated the effect of ibuprofen administration on the blood levels of prostaglandins and as a result the menstrual cramps. In this study, women were treated with ibuprofen or a placebo (drug-free formulation) for two consecutive menstrual periods. Results showed that women treated with ibuprofen showed lower levels of prostaglandin blood levels and consequently fewer menstrual cramps compared with women who received placebo treatments.
Another Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trial compared the effect of ibuprofen and Cinnamon on the treatment of menstrual cramps. The control group received a placebo (drug-free capsule filled with starch), the second group received Ibuprofen (capsule containing 400 mg Ibuprofen), and the third group received Cinnamon (capsule containing 420 mg Cinnamon) in 24 hours.
The intensity and duration of pain associated with menstrual cramp pain were monitored in the group during the first 72 hours of the menstrual cycle.
Results showed that ibuprofen significantly reduced the severity and duration of pain during menstruation compared with cinnamon and placebo-treated groups. Also, cinnamon significantly reduced the severity and duration of pain during menstruation compared with the placebo-treated group.
How much ibuprofen can I take for period cramps?
For menstrual cramps, ibuprofen can be used in doses higher than the OTC doses.
For adult women, take 400 mg ibuprofen every 4 hours for the first few days of the period as needed.
Sometimes doctors prescribe ibuprofen 200 mg every 4 hours. It depends on the severity of the cramps.
Does ibuprofen reduce menstrual flow?
The answer is yes. Ibuprofen is found to reduce the menstrual flow.
A dose of 800 mg of ibuprofen three times a day was found to reduce the menstrual flow.
As mentioned above, ibuprofen decreases prostaglandin production and thus, it can reduce uterine contractions leading to less shedding. As a result, it can decrease the menstrual flow due to decreased uterine contractions.
A study reported that the administration of NSAIDs effectively reduced the menstrual flow in 28% to 49%. Also, a Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews revealed the safety and tolerability of NSAIDs in reducing menstrual blood loss in women of reproductive years with heavy menstrual blood loss
What are the side effects of ibuprofen for menstrual cramps?
The most common side effects associated with ibuprofen administration in treating the menstrual cramps are the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Heart pain
Is paracetamol or ibuprofen better for period pain?
Paracetamol is a safe and effective choice for treating mild pain. However, studies have shown that it does not reduce the pain of menstrual cramps as well as ibuprofen.
Ibuprofen is found to be more effective and commonly used for menstrual cramps.
A previous study investigated the effects of ibuprofen (400 mg), naproxen sodium (250 mg), and paracetamol (500 mg) on menstrual pain in 12 women with menstrual cramps. Results showed that ibuprofen, in a single oral dose of 400 mg, significantly reduced pain intensity. However, neither paracetamol nor naproxen sodium significantly changed pain scores.
What are non-pharmacological treatments for menstrual pain?
In addition to the pharmacological treatments of menstrual cramps such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen and naproxen), the non-pharmacological treatments are found to be effective in relieving the menstrual cramps. These include the following (Ref):
- Hot compress
- Healthy diet
- Aromatherapy massage
- Home remedies such as cinnamon, ginger, lemon and honey.