Menstrual cramps are a typical (and unwelcome!) side effect of having a period. They are caused by an excess of prostaglandins* which are released by the lining of the uterus as it prepares to shed (i.e, your period!). The excess of prostaglandins can cause strong contractions of the uterus, and reduce blood flow. This in turn reduces the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue - and can cause the cramping pain. It is not known why roughly 75% of menstruators experience cramps, but it is known that inflamed tissue produces more prostaglandins.
When you may experience menstrual cramps:
You may have cramps before your period begins or in the first couple of days. They often start after about 6 months of periods, as the body settles into more frequent periods and regular ovulation. It is expected that they would decrease or stop when the menstruator is in their twenties, or after pregnancy or birth.
Where you may experience menstrual cramps:
Period or menstrual cramps are usually felt in the lower abdomen or lower back and sometimes they radiate down the thighs.
Ways to deal with menstrual cramps:
It can be tricky to manage menstrual cramps as they might not be a problem for every period. Many people are relieved to be pain free afterwards so they happily get on with life! Until… next month!
Our go-to ways to deal with menstrual cramps:
- Apply heat: Such as a hot water bottle or wheat-bag
- Herbal teas, such as mint or chamomile
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen)
- Drinking more water in general (Bloating can cause discomfort and make menstrual cramps worse)
- A hot bath with magnesium salts
When to chat to a pro:
If you think your pain is…
- Increasing (with each period you have)
- Preventing you from taking part in activities you would normally enjoy
- Not being held at bay by a typical painkiller
- You are missing events or work
…This could be a sign that you should speak to a medical pro. It can be handy to keep a diary or journal of your period pain so that you can check trends. A diary can also be helpful to explain to your doctor about what you have been experiencing and you don’t need to rely on your memory!
*What are prostaglandins?
Prostaglandins are compounds in the body made of fats that have hormone-like effects - i.e., they influence reactions in the body when they’re present in certain tissues. Unlike hormones, they aren’t released from a specific gland. Instead, the body has a number of tissues that can make prostaglandins.