You can typically tell when your period is about to start: menstrual cramps, bloating, and mood swings all take over your life. But when your cramps are so severe that they interfere with your everyday activities, it might be time to visit a specialist.
If you're worried about menstrual cramps, the New England Women's Healthcare team has the tools to find out what's causing the problem. Our experienced OB/GYN doctors take the time to get to the bottom of your severe menstrual cramps.
What causes menstrual cramps?
Almost every woman who's had a period knows what menstrual cramps feel like. They're an unfortunate part of your menstrual cycle and typically subside independently or with home treatments.
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for pain from menstrual cramping, and it can be primary or secondary.
Primary menstrual cramps aren't due to another medical problem. The leading cause of primary dysmenorrhea is the production of prostaglandins in your uterus before your menstrual cycle. Prostaglandins are a type of lipid that appears in areas of your body that need repair.
Before your period starts, your body increases the level of prostaglandins in your uterine lining. These prostaglandins are responsible for your uterus contracting while it begins to shed your uterine lining.
Prostaglandin production makes you feel crampy on the first day of your period. However, as your uterine lining continues to shed, the production of prostaglandins decreases, allowing your cramps to subside as well.
Secondary menstrual cramps are from other issues in your body. Secondary dysmenorrhea typically occurs later in life and profoundly affects your menstrual cycle.
Problems with menstrual cramps
You can control most menstrual cramping by listening to your body and resting on the first day of your period. However, secondary dysmenorrhea has another underlying cause that can lead to other issues in your body.
If you're experiencing painful cramping during your period and have other symptoms as well, you could be living with any of the following conditions:
- Ovarian cysts
- Uterine fibroids
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Ectopic pregnancy
You can also have severe cramping when using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control. Copper IUDs cause more cramping during the first six months of usage than hormonal IUDs.
Painful cramping can also come from congenital abnormalities in your cervix and other pelvic areas. You won't know about these issues until our team evaluates you with a pelvic exam and ultrasound.
When should I see a doctor?
Typically, you can manage your menstrual cramps with at-home measures. You can take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to ease your discomfort or use a heating pad over your pelvic area.
However, if you’ve tried several home treatments without relief from your pain, it's time to make an appointment with our team. Other reasons you should seek help for severe menstrual cramps include:
- Fever that accompanies cramps
- Cramps that suddenly get worse
- Pain that medications can’t tame
- Heavy bleeding
- Periods that are getting longer
- Pain that pops up even when you don't have your period
You should also consider seeking help if you've never had cramps before and they suddenly begin, especially if you're over 25.
Period cramps sometimes also spread to other areas of your body, including your back and legs. If your cramps are spreading to other sites and you can't control them with home measures, it’s a good idea to have our team evaluate you.
Don't hesitate to call the New England Women's Healthcare team today if you suffer from intense menstrual cramps. You can also make an appointment online at one of our conveniently located offices in Wilmington and Woburn, Massachusetts.