Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

Menstrual Cramps May Affect the Brain

In Study, Women With Painful Periods Had Abnormal Brain Changes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 11, 2010 -- Menstrual cramps may actually change the structure of women's brains, according to new research in the journal Pain.

Primary dysmenorrhea (PDM) -- menstrual pain in otherwise healthy women -- affects between 20% to 90% of adolescent girls, researchers say. It is marked by cramps in the lower abdomen that start with menstruation and can last up to 72 hours.

Researchers led byJen-Chuen Hsieh, MD, PhD, of the Institute of Brain Science at the National Yang-Ming University in Taipei, Taiwan, used magnetic resonance imaging scans to look at the brains of 32 women with a history of menstrual pain and 32 women with no history of menstrual pain. Scans were conducted when the women were pain-free, and the researchers used these images to help create maps of the gray matter of the brain. The brain's gray matter comprises the bulk of nerve cells or neurons within the brain.

There were changes in the volume of the brain's gray matter among women who experience painful menstrual cramps. Specifically, there were decreases of gray matter in areas of the brain involved in pain transmission and mood regulation and increases in areas of the brain that are involved in pain sensations and in regulating certain hormones, the study showed.

“Our results demonstrated that abnormal gray matter changes were present in PDM patients even in absence of pain," the study authors write. "This shows that not only sustained pain, but also cyclic occurring menstrual pain can result in longer-lasting central changes." The researchers cite previous studies that have found brain changes in people with chronic, persistent pain conditions.

Menstrual Pain and the Brain

Although the consequences of these changes are not known, "these results indicate that the adolescent brain is vulnerable to menstrual pain." The next step would be to conduct studies to see what role hormones play in these changes, and to determine whether or not the gray matter changes are reversible,” the researchers write.

"There are certain brain structural changes that occur with menstrual cramps," says Duke Han, PhD, assistant professor of neuropsychology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "These changes could be related to pain, but there could be other contributing factors in addition to pain that are causing these structural changes." Hormonal changes and stress may play a role.

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
Is it menopause or something else?
woman in bathtub
bp app on smartwatch and phone
estrogen gene

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
hot water bottle on stomach
Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror