Menstrual Cramps (cont.)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- What are menstrual cramps?
- How common are menstrual cramps?
- What is dysmenorrhea?
- What causes menstrual cramps?
- Why are some cramps so painful?
- Can menstrual cramps be measured?
- What other factors influence menstrual cramps?
- What are the symptoms of menstrual cramps?
- How are menstrual cramps diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for common menstrual cramps (primary dysmenorrhea)?
- What if the cramps are very severe?
- Are there surgical solutions?
- What is the treatment of secondary dysmenorrhea?
- What is the long-term outlook (prognosis) for menstrual cramps?
- Menstrual Cramps At A Glance
- Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town
Can menstrual cramps be measured?
Yes. Menstrual cramps can be scientifically demonstrated by measuring the pressure within the uterus and the number and frequency of uterine contractions. During a normal menstrual period, the average woman has contractions of a low pressure (50-80 mm Hg), which last 15-30 seconds at a frequency of 1-4 contractions every 10 minutes. When a woman has menstrual cramps, her contractions are of a higher pressure (they may exceed 400 mm Hg), last longer than 90 seconds, and often occur less than 15 seconds apart.
What other factors influence menstrual cramps?
- As mentioned above, an unusually narrow cervical canal tends to increase menstrual cramps.
- Another anatomical factor thought to contribute to menstrual cramps is a backwards tilting of the uterus (a retroverted uterus).
- Lack of exercise is now recognized to contribute to painful menstrual cramps.
- It has long been thought that psychological factors also play a role. For example, it is widely accepted that emotional stress can increase the discomfort of menstrual cramps.
What are the symptoms of menstrual cramps?
Menstrual cramps are pains that begin in the lower abdomen and pelvis. The discomfort can extend to the lower back or legs. The cramps can be a quite painful or simply a dull ache. They can be periodic or continual.
Menstrual cramps usually start shortly before the menstrual period, peak within 24 hours after the onset of the bleeding, and subside again after a day or two.
Menstrual cramps may be accompanied by a headache and/or nausea, which can lead, although infrequently, to the point of vomiting. Menstrual cramps can also be accompanied by either constipation or diarrhea because the prostaglandins which cause smooth muscles to contract are found in both the uterus and intestinal tract. Some women experience an urge to urinate more frequently.
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