Most women have painful menstrual cramps
(dysmenorrhea) from time to time. Menstrual cramps are one of the most common
reasons for women to seek medical attention. The pain from menstrual cramps can
range from mild to severe and can involve the lower belly, back, or thighs.
You may also have headaches, nausea, dizziness or fainting, or diarrhea or
constipation with your cramps.
During the menstrual cycle, the
lining of the
uterus produces a hormone called
prostaglandin. This hormone causes the uterus to
contract, often painfully. Women with severe cramps may produce
higher-than-normal amounts of prostaglandin, or they may be more sensitive to
Cramping is common during the teen years, when a young woman
first starts having periods. Primary
dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe painful
menstrual cramping with no recognized physical cause. It is seen most commonly
in women between the ages of 20 and 24. It usually goes away after 1 to 2
years, when hormonal balance occurs.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is a
term used to describe painful menstrual cramping caused by a physical problem
other than menstruation. Physical problems that can cause this type of cramping
- A condition in which cells that look and act like
the cells of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) are found in other parts of
the abdominal cavity (endometriosis) or grow into the
muscular tissue of the uterine wall (adenomyosis). Pain usually occurs 1 to
2 days before menstrual bleeding begins and continues through the period.
- Growths in the pelvis that are not cancerous (benign growths),
ovarian cysts, cervical or uterine
- Pelvic infections. Your risk for developing an infection is higher after
menstrual bleeding has begun because the opening to the uterus (cervical canal)
widens during menstruation. But pelvic infections, especially those caused by
sexually transmitted infections, can occur at any
- Using an
intrauterine device (IUD). An IUD may cause increased
cramping during your period for the first few months of use. If menstrual
cramping persists or gets worse, you may need to consider having the IUD
removed and choosing another birth control method.
- Problems with
- Structural problems that were
present at birth (congenital), such as narrowing of the lower part of the
uterus that opens into the vagina (cervix).
Menstrual-type cramps may occur after a medical procedure,
such as cautery, cryotherapy, conization, radiation, endometrial biopsy, or IUD
Other menstrual symptoms, such as weight gain, headache,
and tension, that occur before your period begins, can be caused by
premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For more information, see
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.