When You Should Talk to Your Doctor About Cramps
For many women, self-care takes on a whole new meaning when they have their monthly period. Accompanying symptoms like headaches, an aching lower back and a general feeling of fatigue can make it tough to slog through work and family responsibilities. But for some women and teens, period pain is felt at a higher intensity. Severe cramping can make it difficult to function normally. So, how do you know when you should talk to your doctor about cramps?
Period pain is more common than you think. Some young women only experience moderate cramping during the first few years after they initially get their period. Other women say their menstrual cramps are mild or disappear completely after they’ve had their first child. They can get relief with an over-the-counter pain medication like Tylenol or Motrin. But for lots of others, it’s a noticeable, monthly discomfort – or worse.
A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that 85% of women surveyed complained of dysmenorrhea, which is another name for painful menstruation caused by cramping, lower abdominal and back pain. In more severe cases, it can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness or diarrhea. Of those women surveyed, 38% said their period pain kept them from being able to do all their regular activities, and half of them didn’t want to tell their families why they weren’t able to do their daily activities.
When to talk to your doctor. When you’re not feeling well, communication is key. Here are some warning signs that it is time to talk to your healthcare provider about menstrual cramps:
- You have cramps that are severe enough to keep you from doing daily activities.
- You have cramps that last more than 2 or 3 days.
If either of these are the case, your doctor will likely want details of your menstrual cycle: the typical duration, if there is excessive bleeding during your period, or any spotting between periods. Your doctor will probably schedule a pelvic exam so your uterus and ovaries can be checked for any abnormalities, according to The Cleveland Clinic. A vaginal fluid sample may also be taken for analysis.
When cramps are signs of something more serious. Sometimes, intense cramping is a signal of a different health issue not directly related to menstruation. That’s why sharing this information with your doctor is so important. Other conditions that might cause severe cramping include:
- Fibroids: These benign tumors can grow inside or outside the uterus.
- Endometriosis: A painful condition in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside the uterus. These displaced tissue pieces can cause swelling and scarring.
- Adenomyosis: When the lining of the uterus grows into the uterine muscle, swelling the uterus and causing pain and bleeding.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease: An infection that begins in the uterus and can spread to other reproductive organs. It can lead to stomach pain, or pain during intercourse.
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