If you have questions or concerns about your daughter’s menstrual and PMS symptoms, our pediatric experts are here to guide you through this important issue. We asked Dr. Kate Stambough, one of only two fellowship trained Pediatric and Adolescent gynecologists in Arkansas her expert advice on menstrual cycles and PMS symptoms.

Menstrual cramping is usually a normal part of a teenager’s cycle; however, for some girls, periods can be associated with painful cramping that can keep them from fun activities and maybe even school.

Primary Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful periods. This is the most common type of menstrual cramping, and can occur a few days before a menstrual cycle and usually lasts the first few days of the period. Secondary dysmenorrhea is less common and due to an underlying medical condition like endometriosis. It is important that your daughter talk to her doctor about possible medical treatments if the cramping is severe and interferes with her day-to-day life.

What’s the best way to treat menstrual cramps? 

Medicines like over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), can help make periods lighter and less painful. Common choices include Ibuprofen and Naproxen. Although some teenagers use Acetaminophen for other types of pain, this medication is not as helpful for menstrual cramps. NSAIDs should be taken with food and lots of water.

Timing is key! It is helpful to start the medications 1 - 2 days before the period starts or as soon as cramping starts and continue taking it for the first few days of her cycle. Other things that help period cramping: heating pads or taking a warm bath. Getting plenty of sleep and exercise can also help.

PMS, which stands for pre-menstrual syndrome is not the same as menstrual cramping. These are usually symptoms that teenagers get during the week before their period and usually improve within the first few days after the period starts.

Common PMS symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Acne
  • Fatigue
  • Increased hunger or thirst.

It is important to know that if mood symptoms last longer than right before your daughter's period and/or fail to improve within the first few days of their period that there might be indicators of a mood disorder and they should discuss these concerns with their primary care doctor. If you are concerned about your daughter's health, it's a good idea to keep a diary of symptoms to see if they are due to PMS and to figure out which treatment works best for them.

Some research suggests changes in what they eat, including an increase in calcium to 1300 mg per day throughout the month, can help with the symptoms. In addition, staying hydrated, limiting foods high in salt for the few days before your period and focusing on healthy diet choices around your period could help.

Exercise and getting plenty of sleep can also be helpful. If these changes do not lead to management of PMS symptoms, it is important to see your doctor to discuss possible medical management and make sure there are no other causes of your symptoms.

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