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Painful Menstrual Cramps: 5 Causes and How to Treat Them

Painful Menstrual Cramps: 5 Causes and How to Treat Them

Over 50% of women get cramps during their menstrual cycles. Known medically as dysmenorrhea, cramps feel like a throbbing or cramping sensation in your lower abdomen.

This pain is the result of your uterus contracting to shed its lining. For most women, cramps last a few days a month and the pain is mild to moderate. But for some, menstrual cramps are much more intense — and Katie Ostrom, MD, and our team are here to help.

If you have severe cramps that disrupt your life, it could be a sign of a more serious condition. Treating the cause could relieve your pain, and here’s what you need to know.

Common causes of severe menstrual cramps

Some cramping before and during your menstrual periods is normal. However, your menstrual cramps shouldn’t be so intense that they interfere with your everyday activities.

Menstrual cramps that make you miss school or work for several days aren’t normal. Cramps that cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and/or diarrhea aren’t normal. If these symptoms sound familiar, you may have an underlying gynecologic condition that makes menstrual pain worse.

Some possible causes of abnormally painful menstrual cramps are:

1. Menorrhagia

Menorrhagia is the medical term for very heavy periods, and heavy periods can cause severe cramps. Menorrhagia may be diagnosed if you have periods lasting longer than a week, pass clots larger than a quarter, or need to change sanitary products after less than two hours.

2. Endometriosis

Endometriosis occurs when tissue that mimics the lining of your uterus grows elsewhere in your pelvic area. The tissue can grow between reproductive organs and cause inflammation during your period that contributes to pelvic pain.

3. Uterine fibroids

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths in your uterus. Not all fibroids contribute to menstrual cramps, but large fibroids or fibroids growing in your uterine wall can make period pain worse.

4. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

PID is an infection affecting your uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. It doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms, but untreated PID can lead to chronic pelvic pain and more severe pain during your periods.

5. Adenomyosis

Adenomyosis develops when the tissue in your uterine lining starts growing inside your uterine muscle walls. Like endometriosis, it can cause pain that’s worse during your period. Adenomyosis is most common among older women who have given birth.

What to do about painful periods

Painful periods are treatable. If you suffer menstrual cramps that interfere with your life, talk to your doctor. Dr. Ostrom and our team offer comprehensive gynecologic care for teens and adults, and we’re here to help you find relief from the pain.

We start by reviewing your symptoms and doing a pelvic exam. If necessary, we order additional testing like an ultrasound or minimally invasive laparoscopy to diagnose your condition. Then, we tailor your treatment plan based on your diagnosis. 

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications and contraceptives can be effective for menorrhagia, endometriosis, fibroids, and adenomyosis because these treatments reduce the severity of menstrual cramps and help regulate your cycle. If you don’t find relief with conservative methods, Dr. Ostrom may recommend minimally invasive surgery.

Severe period pain isn’t normal, and treatment can help. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Ostrom to learn more about your options. Call our Homer, Alaska, office at 907-435-0555 or request an appointment online to get started.

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