Alternate Names : Dysmenorrhea
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
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