Severe Menstrual Cramps: A Sign of Uterine Fibroids
Women of all ages are familiar with menstrual cramps – they make your period more difficult and can even interfere with daily activities and your ability to function at school or work. Menstrual cramps often center on the lower abdomen and can radiate to the lower back and inner thighs. Cramps can last up to three days, or longer, and may be accompanied by symptoms such as nausea and fatigue.
In some cases, though, cramps are far worse than those that normally occur before and during menstruation. Severe menstrual cramps tend to begin earlier and last longer than typical cramps. If you regularly experience severe menstrual cramps, you may have uterine fibroids.
Symptoms of Severe Menstrual Cramps
You may be wondering how to tell the difference between severe menstrual cramps and “normal” menstrual cramps. Although cramps are never pleasant, severe menstrual cramps have a few properties that set them apart. You may have severe menstrual cramps if you experience the following around the time of your period:
- Pain that does not improve with over-the-counter medication
- Pain that interferes with your daily activities
- Pain that is often accompanied by heavy bleeding or clotting
- Pain that causes nausea or vomiting
Causes of Severe Menstrual Cramps
During your period, contractions of the uterus are triggered by prostaglandins. Those with higher levels of prostaglandins are more likely to experience severe cramps. As the uterus contracts, it can press against nearby blood vessels and cut off the supply of oxygen to muscle tissue. Severe menstrual cramps can be caused by several medical conditions, including:
- Uterine fibroids
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Cervical stenosis
Find out if you are at risk for Uterine Fibroids.
How Do Uterine Fibroids Cause Severe Menstrual Cramps?
Cramps occur as a byproduct of the menstrual cycle, but the presence of fibroids can make cramps more severe. There are two main reasons why fibroids cause severe menstrual cramps. Fibroids often cause heavier than normal bleeding, which can be accompanied by blood clots. Blood can spill backwards (retrograde menstruation) from the uterine cavity through your fallopian tubes into the inside lining of the belly, the peritoneal cavity. Blood is very irritating to the insides, causing severe pain. Research suggests that retrograde menstruation is extremely common women and should probably be considered a normal aspect of menstrual function. In general, heavier bleeding is associated with more intense pain, and heavy bleeding is a hallmark symptom of uterine fibroids.
In the case of larger fibroids, pain can occur when fibroids press against adjacent pelvic nerves and organs. This causes increased cramping and pressure that can spread throughout the abdomen, back, buttocks, and legs.
Menstrual Cramp Relief
If you experience severe menstrual cramps on a regular basis, be sure to visit your doctor. They will be able to help determine the cause and choose a treatment plan that is best suited for you. It can be difficult to treat severe menstrual cramps at home, but there are a few methods you can try. Severe menstrual cramps caused by uterine fibroids can be treated with a minimally invasive procedure like Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE).
Lifestyle Changes & Medications
Severe menstrual cramps are more difficult to treat than typical menstrual cramps. Some methods that are often suggested to manage cramps include regular exercise throughout each month (especially aerobic exercise), heating pads, stress management, and certain supplements. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications are often used for cramps but are not as effective when cramps are severe.
UFE Procedure: Minimally Invasive Fibroid Treatment
If uterine fibroids are the cause of your severe menstrual cramps, a minimally invasive-image guided procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization may be the best next step for you. During UFE, a small incision is made in the groin or wrist. From there, a thin catheter is inserted into the artery that provides blood to the fibroids. Tiny particles are injected to block blood flow, leading to the shrinkage and death of the fibroids. UFE is a beneficial treatment option as it has a lower risk of complications and a faster recovery time than major surgery.
What to Expect from UFE
Our Fibroid Specialists
American Fibroid Centers offers patients access to expertise and care from a team of physicians that truly cares about you. Our board-certified specialists are among the nation’s most experienced at treating women with uterine fibroids, and we will work with you to determine the most suitable treatment plan.
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From the Experts
Get to know more about the symptoms, causes, treatment, and care of Uterine Fibroids.