Health-Menstrual cramps

What are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps are pains in the abdominal (belly) and pelvic areas that are experienced by a woman as a result of her 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 continual process. Many women suffer from both PMS and menstrual cramps.

Menstrual cramps can range from mild to quite severe. Mild menstrual cramps may be barely noticeable and of short duration - sometimes felt just as a sense of light heaviness in the belly. Severe menstrual cramps can be so painful that they interfere with a woman's regular activities for several days.

 

How common are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps of some degree affect more than an estimated 50% of women, and among these, up to 15% would describe their menstrual cramps as severe. Surveys of adolescent girls show that over 90% of girls report having menstrual cramps.

 

What is dysmenorrhea?

The medical term for menstrual cramps is dysmenorrhea. There are two types of dysmenorrhea, primary and secondary.

In primary dysmenorrhea, there is no underlying gynecologic problem causing the pain. This type of cramping may begin within six months to a year following menarche (the beginning of menstruation), the time when a girl starts having menstrual periods. Menstrual cramps typically do not begin until ovulatory menstrual cycles (when an egg is released from the ovaries) occur, and actual menstrual bleeding usually begins before the onset of ovulation. Therefore, an adolescent girl may not experience dysmenorrhea until months to years following the onset of menstruation.

In secondary dysmenorrhea, some underlying abnormal condition (usually involving a woman's reproductive system) contributes to the menstrual pain. Secondary dysmenorrhea may be evident at menarche but, more often, the condition develops later.

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