Period cramps are among the first indications that the lining of your uterus is about to shed during your monthly cycle. One of the main symptoms of periods and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), cramps are triggered by hormones: They happen when prostaglandins stimulate muscle contractions in your uterus.
Most standard period cramps find some relief when you take over-the-counter pain relievers, enjoy a warm bath, or engage in some mild exercise. But for many women, period cramps are debilitating or downright intolerable. This isn’t normal: If your period pain is more than you can handle, it may be time for a visit to your gynecologist.
Board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist Christopher Serrano, MD, encourages you to bring up concerns about your period pain during your next visit to Serrano OBGyn in San Antonio, Texas. Dysmenorrhea, or period pain, is sometimes a sign of an underlying condition that needs more treatment than a heat pack or anti-inflammatory medication.
The warning signs you should know
Some mild-to-moderate discomfort in your lower abdomen is something you can anticipate from your periods. Period cramps affect as many as 80% of women in their lifetimes. If you have particularly strong period cramps, or heavy periods with or without some other underlying condition, hormonal birth control may be able to regulate your hormones and alleviate the discomfort.
Unfortunately, you can’t chalk all period pain up to typical menstrual cramps. If you’re wondering whether or not your period pain needs further evaluation, ponder these questions:
- When did your periods start feeling painful?
- Is your pain so severe you miss work or school?
- Do you have pelvic pain between periods?
- Do you experience intense pain during sexual intercourse?
- Do you have heavy bleeding or menorrhagia associated with your periods?
There may be additional signs of an underlying condition causing your period pain, but you would only notice them under particular circumstances. Infertility is a common sign that your period pain is secondary to another condition, as are cysts observed on your ovaries.
Some possible explanations
Further testing can distinguish between normal period cramps and severe or extensive pain that comes from an underlying reproductive health condition. A pelvic exam, pelvic ultrasound, computed tomography scan, and additional tests can provide answers and lead you to treatments that help with the pain.
Here are a few common possibilities:
Endometriosis is a condition that can be challenging to diagnose, but once you have a confirmed diagnosis, you can start exploring beneficial treatments. It’s a condition that causes your endometrium, or the inner lining of your uterus, to grow on other organs and tissues in your abdomen and pelvis. Just like the actual endometrium, this tissue overgrowth goes through the cycle of becoming inflamed and shedding off.
Endometrial tissue can cause scarring on other organs, as well as blockages within your reproductive system that cause infertility.
Uterine fibroids are growths that are similar to tumors, but they’re not cancerous. Sometimes they don’t cause symptoms, but in other cases, they place pressure on the uterus, leading to period pain.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
PID is a bacterial infection affecting your uterus. The bacteria spread as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and cause inflammation in your uterus and other pelvic organs.
Reach out for your next visit today
If you’re concerned about period pain or intense cramps, schedule an appointment online or over the phone at Serrano OBGyn at your earliest convenience.