Many women suffer from painful cramps during their menstrual cycle every month. However, experiencing them when your period isn’t present is not only uncomfortable but be concerning.
Cramps can be a sign of regular bodily functions like ovulation or indicate other serious illnesses. Here is a list of other health reasons that can feel similar to menstrual cramping.
Many women who have ovaries and have yet to reach menopause experience ovulation. Ovulation is when an egg is released from the ovary to be fertilized by sperm. Whether it becomes fertilized or not, the egg still makes its way through the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where it will attach or shed with the uterine lining.
Many women do not experience any symptoms during ovulation, but for some, pain on one side or the other of the lower abdomen that may be described as sharp or dull, last for a short length of time, or several hours may occur. This may also be accompanied by light bleeding or “spotting.”
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that is formed either on or in the ovary. Typically this occurrence is harmless and goes unnoticed, but there is a chance for it to become large and rupture.
The cyst may have formed on or in the ovary of either side, and you may feel painful pressure before the cyst ruptures. When the sac breaks open, it releases the fluid and possible blood from within and can cause a sharp, severe pain in the lower abdominal area or a mild pain that becomes more severe. The level of pain and the cyst’s size will determine the course of action your doctor advises.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
PID is a bacterial infection that is sexually transmitted to female sexual organs. The condition must be diagnosed and treated with antibiotics. If this condition goes untreated, scar tissue can develop and cause future issues with becoming pregnant. Untreated PID can also be a cause of long-term pelvic pain.
Symptoms of PID often include lower abdominal or pelvic pain, abnormal uterine bleeding, and vaginal discharge. If you suspect PID is the cause of your unusual cramping, contact your doctor for testing and diagnosis.
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When the fertilized egg implants inside the uterus, some women experience “implantation pain.” This pain can happen around 10 to 14 days after conception. “Implantation bleeding” is light bleeding, which can be confused with a light period but should not be cause for alarm.
If you develop additional pregnancy symptoms and suspect you are pregnant, taking a home pregnancy test is an option, or talk with your doctor.
Often referred to as “tubal pregnancy,” the fertilized egg attaches within the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. Rarely, the egg may also attach to the cervix or ovary. This is a dire, life-threatening situation that requires immediate action and will not result in a healthy or viable pregnancy.
Some common symptoms include lower abdominal pain that may be one-sided, bleeding, dizziness, or fainting. If you suspect you have an ectopic pregnancy, seek medical attention immediately.
The loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks is a miscarriage. Cramps are usually mild and become worse. Symptoms also include vaginal bleeding or passing of tissue. Not all uterine bleeding during pregnancy signals a miscarriage, but if you are having severe cramping with or without bleeding, call and speak to your doctor.
Early stages of ovarian cancer often do not present with symptoms. But when symptoms do arise, they may present as lower abdominal pain. Additional symptoms such as abdominal swelling or fullness, a change in bowel or bladder habits, abnormal menstrual cycles also typically accompany the pain. Testing by your doctor will be required to receive a diagnosis and organize a treatment plan.
Endometriosis is when the uterus’s inner lining develops outside of the uterus and can attach to other bodily organs.
Symptoms may include excruciating periods, lower abdominal and lower back pain that can happen at any point in your cycle, bloating, and painful bowel movements. This requires a diagnosis to form a treatment plan.
Pelvic Floor Muscle Dysfunction
The inability of your body to control the muscles of your pelvic floor is Pelvic Floor Muscle Dysfunction. The Pelvic Floor is the ligaments and muscles in your pelvis, and their function is to support the organs located there; bladder, uterus, and rectum. When working correctly, they contract and relax to regulate bowel movements and urination, and sexual intercourse in women. When not working correctly, the muscles contract instead of relaxing, making controlling bowel and bladder movements difficult.
When not treated, abdominal pain, as well as colon damage, can occur. Consult your doctor if the symptoms you are experiencing may be indicative of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.
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Intestinal or Bowel Disorders
There are many types of intestinal or bowel disorders and illnesses. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS), Diverticulitis Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Ulcerative Colitis, to name a few, can cause pain in your abdomen and lower abdomen. These causes for abdominal pain typically present on the lower abdomen’s left side. While cramping is present, it is not associated with the pelvic organs but the intestines and bowels.
Other symptoms may include blood in your stool, weight loss, experiencing sudden urges to defecate, or feeling like your bowels are not completely emptied. Talk with your doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan.
How to receive a diagnosis for your cramps
If you are experiencing painful cramps, especially ones that do not go away, keep coming back irregularly, or are severe, contact your doctor or visit your local Emergency Department and seek treatment.
Be sure to give as much detail as possible to medical staff, including location, onset, and pain severity. Also, communicate if pain or cramping is accompanied by other concerning symptoms.
The doctor will order the testing that best suits the symptoms you’ve presented with. Testing may include lab work, pelvic exam, CT scan, and ultrasound.
If the source of cramping is determined to be associated with a specific bodily system and is not emergent, a specialist’s referral may be given.
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