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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Medical Symptoms > Menstrual Cramps
      Category : Health Centers > Reproductive System

Menstrual Cramps

Alternate Names : Dysmenorrhea

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Menstrual cramps are the pain and cramping some women experience during their monthly periods. The term dysmenorrhea usually refers to pain and cramps severe enough to prevent normal activity.

What is going on in the body?

About half the women of childbearing age have menstrual cramps. Fifteen percent of women have dysmenorrhea. There are two kinds of dysmenorrhea:

  • primary, which means there is no physical cause for it other than hormones
  • secondary, which means it stems from another health problem in a woman's body
  • Menstrual pain is linked to a hormone that prompts ovulation. Women who ovulate, or release an egg during monthly cycles, make the hormone progesterone. This hormone boosts the body's level of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins stimulate uterine contractions. As the uterus contracts, it sloughs off the lining. The tissue passes out of the uterus through the cervix. Women with dysmenorrhea have prostaglandin levels that are 5 to 13 times higher than normal.

    What are the causes and risks of the condition?

    Experts do not know what triggers high prostaglandin levels. Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by other disorders, such as:

  • adenomyosis, or growth of the lining of the uterus into the muscles of the uterus
  • endometriosis, a condition in which tissue from the lining of the uterus appears in other parts of the body
  • fibroids, or benign growths in the uterus
  • a narrow cervix, or uterine opening
  • ovarian cysts
  • pelvic adhesions, or scar tissue, from past abdominal surgery
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • a uterus that is retroverted, or tipped backward
  • Here are some factors that increase a woman's risk for menstrual cramps:

  • an intrauterine device, or IUD
  • lack of exercise
  • psychological and emotional factors, especially in teens
  • stress


    Next section


    Menstrual Cramps: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Eva Martin, MD
    Reviewer: Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
    Date Reviewed: 06/07/01

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