About half of women experience menstrual cramps, and about 15% describe the pain as severe. It has been shown that women who do not exercise experience more painful menstrual cramps.
Certain psychological factors such as emotional stress may also increase the likelihood of having uncomfortable menstrual cramps. Additional risk factors for these cramps include:
- Being younger than 20 years of age
- Starting puberty at age 11 or younger
- Menorrhagia – heavy bleeding during periods
- Never given birth.
What causes menstrual cramps?
During each menstrual period, if there is no sperm to fertilize the egg, the uterus contracts to expel its lining. This process is driven by the release of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which is associated with pain and inflammation in higher levels. These uterine contractions cause most of the pain felt during menstrual cramps because the contractions inhibit blood flow to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium).
In addition, substances known as leukotrienes are also elevated during menstruation, and they may be the cause of menstrual cramps.
Women with delayed sleep phase syndrome are more likely to report irregular menstrual cycles and premenstrual symptoms, as well as menstrual cramps, according to researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago, USA.
Several underlying medical conditions are also capable of causing menstrual cramps. These include:
- Endometriosis – the tissue that lines the uterus develops outside the uterus
- Uterine fibroids – noncancerous tumors and growths in the wall of the uterus
- Adenomyosis – the tissue that lines your uterus grows into the muscular walls of the uterus
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacterium
- Cervical stenosis – the opening of the cervix is small and limits menstrual flow.
Written by Peter Crosta M.A.
Fri 12 June 2015