Dysmenorrhea is the clinical term for the painful cramps that many women experience around the time of their period. There are two main types: primary dysmenorrhea, which is pain in the absence of a clear disease that’s causing it, and secondary dysmenorrhea, which is caused by an identifiable underlying illness. Dysmenorrhea impacts a large majority of women; around two-thirds of young women worldwide experience it.
One of the main chemical culprits for primary dysmenorrhea is a rise in prostaglandins (especially PGF2ɑ), which can reduce blood flow to the uterus while also strengthening contractions. This combination lowers oxygen availability in the uterus, resulting in cramping and pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can stem this rise in prostaglandins, which is probably why they are effective for treating dysmenorrhea and are recommended as a first-line intervention.