If you’ve got cramps between periods, this read is for you! Pretty much every woman on earth has experienced cramps at some point. You know the feeling: that throbbing pain in your lower abdomen, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to something severe enough that it keeps you from your daily life.
Typically, women experience cramps before or during their periods. But to understand why they happen at any time in your cycle, we first have to explore the purpose of periods in the first place!
Why Do Women Have Periods?
Human females, bats, monkeys, apes and maybe elephant shrews are the only species to have menstrual cycles. But human women have more periods than any other mammal. Even though the blood loss can lead to anemia, especially if you have heavy periods.
The answer is long, but the basic idea is that your blood nourishes a baby when you’re pregnant, through a placenta that directly accesses your circulatory system. Because this gives your growing embryo the chance to really cause trouble in your body, we need a major screening process in the womb before one successfully implants. And that’s the job of your endometrium. (The lining of your uterus.) It builds up each month to test the strength of an embryo, making sure it’s worth implanting. But if your embryo isn’t healthy, or you don’t fertilize an egg, your lining sheds. And that’s the answer to why do women get periods. Now, back to cramps.
Cramps During Your Period
These cramps are directly tied to your hormones: they set it caused when Prostaglandin (a lipid hormone) causes your uterine muscles to contract. Called primary dysmenorrhea, the purpose of these types of cramps is to hel2p your body get rid of its unfertilized egg and your uterine lining. And while uncomfortable, these primary cramps don’t last long—they typically resolve between 48 and 72 hours after they first begin.
But sometimes, you get cramps after your period is done; other times, cramps start up, but no period follows. These cramps are obviously not connected to menstruation, so they are known as secondary dysmenorrhea. Sometimes, these secondary cramps are no big deal—it could be a sign of a minor stomach bug or other irritation. But other times, secondary cramps are a sign of an underlying medical condition. And, today, we’ll focus on one possible cause of secondary dysmenorrhea: uterine fibroids.
Cramps Between Periods and Fibroids
Before explaining the connection between cramps and fibroids, you need to know exactly what fibroids are (and aren’t. Fibroids are tumors that can form anywhere in your uterus. They are NOT cancerous, although a small minority of women will discover they also have cancer when treating their fibroids.
Some women’s fibroids aren’t symptomatic. Other women experience a range of symptoms. How many or how severe those symptoms will be have a lot to do with the, size, location and number of tumors developing in your uterus.
In addition to secondary cramping, fibroids can cause symptoms such as:
- Spotting between periods
- Heavy menstrual periods, some severe enough to require transfusions
- Long periods
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- A frequent need to pee, and/or difficulties when you go
- For some women, becoming or remaining pregnant will also be difficult with fibroids.
Other Reasons You Get Non-Menstrual Cramps
Not all cramps between periods are tied to fibroids. Here are other reasons you might get cramps that aren’t tied to your menstrual cycle:
If you have an ovarian cysts (a small, fluid-filled growth in your ovaries) you could experience intense lower belly cramps. These cysts are common, and your OBGYN can help you diagnose this condition. But don’t wait too long to seek help. If a cyst ruptures, you could experience a medical emergency. In addition to cramps, fever or vomiting are symptoms of a ruptured ovarian cyst.
Cramps could be normal your pregnancy. In the first trimester, your expanding uterus triggers mild cramping. Your second trimester brings muscle cramps as your body stretches to accommodate fetal growth. But both these cramps should be mild and occasional, If they’re strong or frequent, tell your OBGYN right away.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
This condition is usually tied to an sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. It’s a sign of infection in your reproductive organs, and it can cause painful cramps, fever, burning when you pee, and smelly discharge.
Inflammatory bowel disease
This chronic condition damages your digestive system. With IBD, its hard to digest food, and that triggers a range of symptoms. Abdominal pain and cramping is common, as are diarrhea, blood in your stool, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
This is a chronic disorder in which your uterine tissue grows outside your uterus. It’s often a cause of cramping between periods, but it also causes heavy periods and painful sex.
Diagnosing Cramping Between Periods
We hope this guide can help you determine the cause of your non-menstrual cramps. But we also hope you talk to your doctor about all your symptoms. That way, you can get the right diagnosis, and be on your way to relief.
Remember, it’s often your other symptoms that can help you get a diagnosis. Because fibroids can cause many painful symptoms, in addition to cramping between periods. Which is why so many women choose to treat their tumors. And, for many women, non-invasive treatment options like Uterine Fibroid Embolization will provide relief from symptoms! If you suspect you have fibroids, or have a diagnosis already, call our Houston fibroid specialists today to see if UFE is right for you!