The dull, throbbing, or sharp pain felt in the lower abdomen before and during menstrual periods is known as menstrual cramps, or dysmenorrhea. The pain may range in severity and continue for two to three days. Although all women are not affected by period pains, it may affect normal activities in few. Studies show that the chances of getting uncomfortable pain during periods increases with stress, both physical and emotional. Menstrual cramps are of two types – primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common type and is not caused by any underlying gynaecological problem. Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by certain medical conditions, like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease.
The main cause for the discomfort during the menstrual periods is the presence of chemicals called prostaglandins produced by the tissue that line the walls of uterus. These chemicals trigger muscular contractions in uterus. The intensity of contractions increases with the levels of prostaglandins in blood. These chemicals may also cause nausea, diarrhea, and headaches, which are symptoms that are commonly seen during periods.
Other causes of pain include:
- Endometriosis – the development of uterine tissue outside uterus
- Infections in any of the reproductive organs
- Fibroids – benign growths in the uterine wall
- Intra-uterine device
- Adenomyosis – growth of uterine tissue into the muscular walls of uterus
- Cysts in uterus
- Pelvic inflammatory disease – infections caused by bacteria
- Narrow cervix
Factors that may increase the risk of getting menstrual cramps include:
- Age – Those who are younger than 20-years-old have more chances of having cramps during periods
- Early onset of puberty – If the starting of puberty was before 11-years-old, the chances of menstrual cramps are greater
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Family history
Menstrual cramps are mostly associated with other symptoms like:
- Pain in the lower back
- Pain in the legs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bloating in the abdomen
You should consult with a doctor if the menstrual cramps persist and start affecting your day-to-day activities. This is particularly important if you are older and the cramps have recently started.