Menstrual cramps are pains in the abdomen and pelvic areas that can be experienced by a woman because of menstrual period. Menstrual cramps are not the same as the discomfort felt during premenstrual syndrome (PMS), although the symptoms of both disorders can sometimes be experienced as a continuous process. Many women suffer from both PMS and menstrual cramps.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MENSTRUAL CRAMPS?
- Menstrual cramps usually begin before the onset of menstrual period, peak within 24 hours after the onset of the bleeding, and subside again after a day or two.
- Menstrual cramps are pains that begin in the lower abdomen and pelvis. The discomfort can extend to the lower back or legs.
- Menstrual cramps can be a quite painful or simply a dull ache.
- The pain can be periodic or continuous.
- Pain may be felt in the inner thighs, or hips.
Menstrual cramps may be accompanied by a headache and/or nausea, which can lead, although infrequently, to vomiting. Menstrual cramps can also be accompanied by either constipation or diarrhea, because the prostaglandins, which cause smooth muscles to contract also affect the intestinal tract. Some women experience an urge to urinate more frequently.
HOW LONG DO MENSTRUAL CRAMPS LAST? WHY DO THEY CAUSE SEVERE PAIN?
Menstrual cramps are caused by the uterine contractions that occur in response to prostaglandins and other chemicals. The cramping sensation is intensified when clots or pieces of bloody tissue from the lining of the uterus pass through the cervix, especially if a woman’s cervical canal is narrow.
The difference between menstrual cramps that are more painful and those that are less painful may be related to a woman’s prostaglandin levels. Women with menstrual cramps have elevated levels of prostaglandins in the endometrium (uterine lining) when compared with women who do not experience cramps. Menstrual cramps are very similar to those a pregnant woman experiences when she is given prostaglandins as medication to induce labor.
Usually, the strength of menstrual cramps are not measured. Researchers have demonstrated that menstrual cramps can be scientifically documented by measuring the pressure within the uterus, as well as 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 with dysmenorrhea has menstrual cramps, her contractions are usually of a higher pressure (they may exceed 400 mm Hg), last longer than 90 seconds, and often occur less than 15 seconds apart.