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HEALTH & FITNESS - What your cramps may be telling you

Published:Monday | February 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Sacha Walters, Staff Reporter

Dr Buchanan - file

Many women battle with their menstrual cycle on a monthly basis. They bear the sometimes customary menstrual cramps considering it all part and parcel of the whole deal. However, there are various instances when those pelvic cramps can be a result of more than just your period.

Menstrual cramps, also called dysmenorrhea, can be either primary or secondary, according to Dr Keisha Buchanan, obstetrician and gynaecologist. With primary dysmenorrhea the cramps are related to one's period. They usually start shortly before the period with the pain being most intense at the beginning of the period and progressively lessening after a day or two.

Pattern change

"Once the pattern changes. That is a sign that something may be wrong," said Dr Buchanan. This can be manifested in the intensity of the pain and length of time the pain lasts.

"If you have cramps all the way through the period or cramps that start days before your period, these are all signs that something else may be wrong," she said.

This would be referred to as secondary dysmenorrhea which are cramps that have an underlying cause such as fibroids, endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease or are associated with an intrauterine contraceptive device.

"The cramps related to secondary dysmenorrhea, may start days before your period (as is in the case with fibroids), last for longer than 72 hours and may get more intense as the period progresses," she said.

Some possible causes include:

Endometriosis - occurs when the endometrial cells, which are usually shed during menstruation and are usually formed inside the uterus, are formed outside of it. Commonly they attach to the outside of the uterus, intestines, Fallopian tubes, ovaries and lining of the pelvic cavity.

While many women may not show signs of endometriosis, when they do, the most common symptoms include pelvic cramps and infertility. The pain will occur just before the period, right through the period and lessen after the period. Dr Buchanan said pain may also occur while passing stool, while having your period, or during intercourse. Other symptoms may include irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding, lower abdominal and back pain and diarrhoea and or constipation.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) - refers to an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs. Untreated it may lead to infertility, an ectopic pregnancy, abscess formation, and chronic pelvic pain.

PID can occur as a result of untreated sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

Like endometriosis it can go unrecognised by some women. However, when symptoms occur the most common is lower abdominal pain. Others include irregular menstrual bleeding, painful intercourse, fever and unusual vaginal discharge.

It's recommended that you visit your gynaecologist if your cramps seem abnormal.

Additional Information : www.WebMD.com