Many women experience abdominal cramping before or during their menstrual cycle. It’s also possible to have post-period cramps. Painful cramping after your period is known as secondary dysmenorrhea. It’s more common during adulthood.
These cramps aren’t usually serious. However, it’s important that you monitor them, especially if they’re long-lasting. Post-period cramps may be a symptom of an underlying condition.
Continue reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of secondary dysmenorrhea.
What does it feel like?
Cramping after your period is usually felt in the lower abdomen and back. You may experience pain in your hips and thighs. Cramping and aching may be accompanied by nausea and lightheadedness. You may have abdominal bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.
The pain may be more severe and continue longer than normal menstrual cramps. The cramps may also start earlier in your menstrual cycle instead of right before your next period.
What causes it?
Sometimes cramping after your period isn’t serious. But if you have persistent pain from cramping that lasts longer than your menstrual cycle, it could be a sign that you have an underlying disorder.
Endometriosis is a condition that happens when the uterus cell lining grows on the outside. This can cause painful cramping before, during, and after your period. Cramping may be accompanied by inflammation and pelvic pain. The pain may be severe, and can happen during or after sex or during bowel movements or urination. This ongoing pain may be felt in the lower back.
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
- painful cramping before, during, and after menstruation that may be accompanied with lower back and abdominal pain
- pain during or after sex
- pain during bowel movements or urination
- excessive bleeding during periods or between periods
- diarrhea or constipation
Endometriosis may be treated with medication, hormone therapy, or surgery.
Adenomyosis is a condition caused by abnormal tissue growth. Instead of forming in the uterine lining, tissue grows in the muscular wall of the uterus. Symptoms include:
- heavy or prolonged menstruation
- severe cramping or pelvic pain during menstruation
- pain during intercourse
- blood clots during menstruation
- growth or tenderness in the lower abdomen
Adenomyosis can be treated with medications. In severe cases, it can be treated with a hysterectomy.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is caused by sexually transmitted bacteria that infects the female reproductive organs. These bacteria can spread from your vagina to your uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes.
PID may cause no signs or only mild symptoms. Symptoms include:
- lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- heavy or abnormal vaginal discharge
- abnormal uterine bleeding
- feeling unwell, as if with the flu
- pain or bleeding during intercourse
- fever, sometimes with chills
- painful or difficult urination
- bowel discomfort
PID may be treated with antibiotics and temporary abstinence. Your sexual partner or partners will need to be examined and treated for any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to prevent reinfection.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that form on the uterus. Women with fibroids often don’t have any symptoms. Symptoms of uterine fibroids are influenced by the location, size, and number of fibroids. Symptoms may include:
- painful cramping
- irregular bleeding
- heavy or prolonged menstruation
- frequent or difficult urination
- pelvic pressure or pain
- backache or leg pains
Fibroids can be treated with medication, medical procedures, or surgery.
Cysts that form inside the ovaries can cause post-period bleeding and cramping. Most ovarian cysts disappear naturally without any treatment. However, large cysts may cause pelvic pain in the lower abdomen. Your abdomen may feel full, heavy, or bloated. See a doctor immediately if you have any sudden and severe abdominal or pelvic pain, fever, or vomiting.
Ovarian cysts can be treated with medication or surgery.
Cervical stenosis is when the cervix has a small or narrow opening. This may hinder menstrual flow and can cause painful pressure in the uterus.
You can treat cervical stenosis with medication or surgery. Or, you may have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted.
An ectopic pregnancy happens when a fertilized egg attaches somewhere outside the uterus.
Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may begin like a normal pregnancy. However, you may develop the following symptoms:
- abnormal uterine bleeding
- severe sharp lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- severe cramping
- shoulder pain
Heavy bleeding will usually occur if the fallopian tube ruptures. This will be followed by lightheadedness, fainting, and shock. Seek immediate medical care if you have any of these symptoms. A fallopian tube rupture is a medical emergency.
An ectopic pregnancy can be resolved with medication or surgery, but it should always be treated as an emergency.
If you become pregnant, your uterine lining may shed and cause light spotting. This is known as implantation bleeding. It usually occurs 7 to 14 days after conception. Uterine cramping may also occur, especially in the first part of your pregnancy.
Take a home pregnancy test to confirm that you’re pregnant.
Ovulation cramps (mittelschmerz)
Mittelschmerz is lower abdominal pain on one side that’s caused by ovulation. It may be short-lived or last up to two days. You may feel a dull, cramp-like sensation on one side. The pain may come on suddenly and feel very sharp. You may have vaginal discharge or light bleeding.
See your doctor if pelvic pain worsens, or if you also have a fever or nausea.
How is it treated?
There are several ways to get relief from cramps. Most remedies are part of a healthy lifestyle:
- Find ways to treat yourself and reduce stress.
- Maintain a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
- Reduce or eliminate fatty and salty foods.
Exercise can help relieve pain by increasing blood circulation and easing stress. Spend time doing light exercises, such as gentle stretching, biking, or walking.
A massage or acupuncture treatment may help, too. You can gently massage your lower abdomen using essential oils. Having an orgasm is also thought to help.
Make sure you’re getting plenty of rest and sleep. Use a heating pad or hot water bottle and take time to relax. You may wish to use a heat source on your abdomen or lower back while doing relaxing or restorative yoga poses. It may help to take a warm shower or bath and to drink warm drinks, like a cup of hot green tea.
What’s the outlook?
For a positive outlook, maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and self-care techniques to reduce stress. Always talk to your doctor to discuss any treatment plan you intend to begin. You can also discuss the symptoms you wish to treat.
If your cramps don’t get better or you develop other symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor for a pelvic exam. Your doctor can help you determine the best treatment plan as well as diagnose any underlying conditions.