What causes menstrual cramps? Most women ask this question at some time in their life. It seems that when it comes to that time of the month, mild cramps, bloating, and irritability — although nuisances — are all to be expected. However, crippling period pain, heavy bleeding, serious fatigue, and other symptoms that affect your quality of life are not.
With menstrual cramps, mild to intense abdominal cramping begins within 24 hours of the start of your period and continues for days. Symptoms of period pain include:
- Dull, constant ache
- Menstrual cramps that radiate to your lower back and thighs
- Throbbing or cramping pain in your uterus during the period
Some women also experience:
- Loose bowels
But what causes cramps during your period? Menstrual cramps are generally categorized as “primary dysmenorrhea,” which is caused by the elevated production of prostaglandins, hormones produced by the uterus that cause it to contract. When you have strong uterine contractions, the blood supply to the uterus is momentarily shut down, depriving the uterus muscle of oxygen and setting up the cycle of menstrual cramps and pain. Some studies show that women with severe menstrual cramps have stronger uterine contractions than others do when giving birth.
According to Mayo Clinic, certain conditions such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease are associated with menstrual cramps. Endometriosis can cause fertility problems. Pelvic inflammatory disease can scar your fallopian tubes, which increases the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg implants outside your uterus. Other risk factors include use of an intrauterine device (IUD), uterine fibroid tumor, and sexually transmitted diseases.
If you have period pain, here are some home-care treatments to consider:
- Dietary supplements Some findings report that natural dietary supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium may reduce period pain.
- Relaxation While emotional stress may increase your period pain, meditation and relaxation exercises can reduce their severity.
- Exercise Physical activity, particularly yoga, may ease the pain of menstrual cramps.
- Heat Try using a heating pad or microwaveable warm cozy on your abdomen during your period. Some find great period pain relief with a soak in a hot bath or shower.
- Stop smoking and avoid alcohol. Both substances have been found to make menstrual cramps much worse.
A study published in October 2017 in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies concluded that women who practiced yoga 30 minutes per day, two days a week, for 12 weeks at home had a significant improvement in menstrual pain and physical fitness over the control group. Another study, published in January 2017 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that Hatha yoga practice was associated with a reduction in levels of chronic pelvic pain in women with endometriosis.
If your periods are causing you significant pain, consult your doctor, because menstrual pain can be a sign of a serious problem. Here are seven conditions known to cause painful menstrual cramps.