Menstrual Cramps are a tightening sensation felt in the abdomen or pelvis of a woman when she is experiencing her menstrual cycle (also known as a period). They can range in severity from mild to severe and last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Most women experience them at some point in their menstrual cycle, but there are a small percentage of women that do not. Many women do not develop menstrual cramps with their first few menstrual cycles, but most do develop them within the coming months and years. In most cases the cramps are treated by taking over the counter pain medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
What causes menstrual cramps?
Menstrual cramps are caused by the release of chemicals known as prostaglandins. This chemical causes the contraction of the uterus which expels the uterine lining. When a woman does not become pregnant during her fertility cycle the lining that has been built up to facilitate the implantation of a fertile egg needs to be shed and rebuilt. The bleeding that occurs during menstruation is the shedding of that lining. Prostaglandins cause the muscles of the uterus to contract. This constricts the blood supply to the uterus lining or endometrium, which causes a lack of oxygen and makes the tissue of the endometrium die and break down. The menstrual cramps then push the old tissue out of the body. The same muscles that contract during menstrual cramps are those that contract during contraction in childbirth. Synthetic prostaglandin is also given to pregnant women to induce labor.