Menstrual cramps, medically referred to as dysmenorrhea, are throbbing pains experienced by women in the lower abdomen right before and during their menstrual periods. While the cramping pain can be a mild annoyance for some women, it is much more severe in its intensity for others, even to the extent of interfering with their regular activities during the time of menstruation.
The causes for these cramps are mostly identifiable problems and treating these underlying problems can ease the pain. Typically, if the cramps begin after menarche (the beginning of menstruation), the symptoms abate over a period of years, possibly lessening considerably after the woman gives birth.
What is Dysmenorrhea?
The clinical term for painful cramps during menstrual periods is dysmenorrhea. Dysmenorrhea is classified into two types: primary and secondary.
In case of primary dysmenorrhea, there are no underlying health issues that cause the pain. An example of primary dysmenorrhea is the intense cramps experienced after menarche. Menstrual cramps are not usually experienced till the ovulatory menstrual cycles begin, which happens when an egg is released from the ovaries. Menstrual bleeding begins before the onset of this ovulation cycle, which means an adolescent girl is not likely to experience severe menstrual cramps until 6-12 months following menarche.
In case of secondary dysmenorrhea, underlying conditions pertaining to the reproductive system) or otherwise can contribute to cramps and pain. This form of dysmenorrhea may be present at menarche, but often the underlying condition develops later.
When to See a Doctor about Menstrual Cramps?
In most cases if an individual is experiencing menstrual cramps within few years of menarche, the pain is not a cause for concern. However, if the cramps progressively worsen, disrupt your life every month, or if you’re over 25 years of age and just started exhibiting symptoms of dysmenorrhea, you must consult a doctor at the earliest.
Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea
A woman may experience some or all these symptoms associated dysmenorrhea:
- Intense cramping pain in the lower abdomen
- Dull, constant pain
- Loose stools
- Headache or dizziness
- Aches and pain that radiate to the lower back and thighs
Causes for Menstrual Cramps
During menstruation, the uterus contracts to expel its lining. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances associated with pain and inflammation. They trigger uterine muscle contractions. Higher levels of this substance are known to cause severe menstrual cramps.
Menstrual cramps can also be caused by:
Uterine fibroids: These fibroids are non-cancerous growths that appear in the wall of the uterus, causing pain.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): This disease, or rather infection, of the female reproductive organs is caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.
Cervical stenosis: When the opening of the cervix is too small and impedes menstrual flow, it can cause a painful increase in pressure within the uterus.
Endometriosis: When the tissue that lines the uterus is implanted outside your uterus, commonly in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or in the tissue lining the pelvis, the condition is referred to as endometriosis.
Adenomyosis: This condition causes the tissue that lines the uterus to grow into the muscular walls of the uterus.
Menstrual cramps – MayoClinic