Most women are worried about the causes of menstrual cramps. They ask their friends, relatives, nutritionists, health experts, and gynecologists at some point in time in their lives. If you’re a woman with a uterus, whether you like it or not, expect irritability, mild cramps, and bloating when it is that time of the month. However, if you experience other symptoms like crippling period cramps, severe fatigue, heavy bleeding, consistent headaches, and more, they can affect the quality of your life.
The uterus’ response to menstruation is the basic reason for period cramps. The uterus is like a large muscle. During your period, it gets a pretty big workout because the uterine lining consistently builds up. The uterus responds with cramping to control the bleeding during menstruation. If you have a blood clot or large volumes of menstrual blood, the uterus tends to cramp to expel that.
You can feel mild to intense abdominal cramping with menstrual pain within 24 hours of the start of your period. This feeling can continue for days. The most common symptoms of period pain include:
- Cramping or throbbing pain in your uterus during the period
- Menstrual cramps shifting to your thighs and lower back
- Dull, constant ache
Some women also complain of symptoms like:
- Loose bowels
In most cases, painful period cramps are inconvenient, but you don’t need to worry about them till they don’t hamper your daily routine.
It may not be easy to differentiate between normal period pain and the one caused by an underlying condition because everyone’s tolerance for pain is different. Thus, there isn’t a pain scale to understand that your cramps signal something serious. But, if your cramps don’t let you get out of bed and go to work and you don’t get relief from any of the OTC pain medications, you must consult a doctor immediately.
Here’s a look at six medical conditions that can give you unbearable and agonizing cramps.
- Uterine Fibroids
It is common for women to develop these benign growths on the uterus wall. Since the growths increase the surface area of the uterine lining, bleeding and cramping during your menstrual cycle increase. You may experience super-intense cramps and heavy blood flow.
What to do? If you don’t get relief from OTC medications, see your doctor. Many times, fibroids have a genetic component, so if you know someone in your family who has fibroids, do not delay your visit to the doctor. You will need an ultrasound to verify that there are no abnormal growths. To help reduce the pain during periods, the doctor will prescribe low-dose birth control pills. If the size and location of the fibroids are unusual, you will be recommended surgery as a treatment.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disorder (PID)
Women with PID experience constant pain even after the menstrual cycle, along with vaginal discharge. The cause of the condition is untreated STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia. The infection is serious and affects the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus.
What to do? Consult a doctor. PID is characterized by dull, constant pain. You will be advised to take a swab culture to check for infection or bacteria. The treatment plan for PID includes antibiotics. However, do not neglect the symptoms. Leaving PID untreated for very long can result in the formation of scar tissue in your reproductive tract, impacting your fertility negatively.
- Ruptured Ovarian Cyst
A ruptured ovarian cyst or ovarian torsion causes acute pain on one side. Ovarian torsion occurs when something results in the twisting of the ovary, which cuts off its blood flow. The problem of ovarian cysts is common and not serious. However, if the cyst breaks open or ruptures, it needs immediate attention. The pain from a ruptured or torn ovarian cyst is sharp and stabbing, causing you to double over. The symptoms of nausea and vomiting are also common.
What to do? It is vital to go for medical scans to ensure that the cause of your severe pain is not a ruptured cyst or torsion. The treatment for ruptured cysts varies from mild interventions to surgery, depending on several other factors. But the treatment for torsion will mostly be surgery to either rectify the problem or remove the ovary.
When the uterine tissue begins to grow on other organs, such as ovaries and fallopian tubes, the condition is known as endometriosis. Most women consider excruciating pain as normal period cramps. But if the pain does not get controlled by any OTC medications, you must accept that it is a sign of a potential problem.
What to do? Start by maintaining a log of your menstrual cycle. Note down the dates, the degree of pain, and other symptoms like clotting, blood flow, etc. Consult a doctor with the information available to you. Having information for around 2-3 months helps in diagnosis. An ultrasound can help determine the growth of the tissue. Hormone treatments are effective in endometriosis as they reduce the length of your period and lower the degree of pain you experience every month.
- Intrauterine Device (IUD)
If you’ve gotten an intrauterine device implanted, mild, initial cramping is normal. However, if the pain is severe and continues for a few days, the IUD’s placement may not be right. A dislodged intrauterine device can cause significant cramps.
What to do? Visit the doctor who will first perform a pelvic exam to check if the IUD strings are noticeably coming out of the cervix. It is vital to ensure that the IUD is at its place and has not moved or migrated. If the pelvic exam does not provide adequate information, the next step is an ultrasound.
- Ectopic Pregnancy or Miscarriage
If you experience cramps outside of your normal cycle, there are chances of an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg gets attached somewhere else, like the fallopian tubes, instead of the uterus. Due to wrong placement, the egg cannot develop, and the attached tissue can cause heavy bleeding. Women experience cramping and abnormal bleeding in the conditions of both ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage.
One of the easiest ways to understand that the cause of your cramps and bleeding is ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage is to know whether you’re due for your period or not. If you’re experiencing cramps and irregular bleeding when it is not time for your cycle, beware.
What to do? Take a pregnancy test. If the result is negative, there is no pregnancy-related concern. But if the result is positive, visit a doctor immediately. An ectopic pregnancy does not develop naturally and can lead to a life-threatening condition.
Menstrual cramps are categorized as primary dysmenorrhea, which results from the increased production of prostaglandins, the hormones your uterus produces for contraction. During strong uterine contractions, there is no blood supply to the uterus, depriving the uterus muscle of oxygen and triggering the cycle of period cramps and pain. There are different home treatments and OTC medications you can try for relief. But if your periods are causing agonizing pain, you must consult an expert because menstrual pain can be the first sign of an underlying problem.