What Can I Do About My Cramps During Menopause?
3 minute read
When you think about abdominal or pelvic cramps, your memories may whisk you back to the days of your monthly menstrual period.
Back then, it was not unusual to feel uncomfortable or painful menstrual cramps a couple of days before and during our periods. (For 10 percent of women, these cramps are so painful, they’re unable to go about their normal daily activities for up to three days each month, according to one study.)
But what if you’re in menopause, your periods have stopped and you’re still feeling that familiar ache of menstrual cramps? It could be a symptom of a condition that needs to be checked. Most of the time, however, menopause cramps are not serious.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Here’s what you need to know.
When you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, you’ve officially reached menopause. That usually happens around age 51, on average. Prior to that, you’re in perimenopause, when estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate and make your periods – and your life – erratic.
Perimenopause usually begins in your 40s and can start 8 to 10 years prior to menopause. Your periods may be lighter or heavier than normal, or they may be shorter (a couple of days) or longer in duration (what, a two-week bleed? Yep, that can and does happen).
Your period might take an extended vacation, only to come charging back a few months later. Or you may get a few extra periods (bonus points!) throughout the month (which is why it might be a good idea to always be prepared with extra tampons, pads and a change of clothing).
Your moods swing wildly, and your sleep suffers. Your brain feels like cotton candy. Your vagina craves its lost moisture. Hot flashes; heard of those? Of course, they’re the most common menopause symptoms.
The whys of menstrual cramps
You thought that throbbing, cramping pain was just reserved during your menstrual cycle? Cramps during menopause can feel similar to menstrual cramps: mild or severe enough to interfere with everyday life. That pain may be dull or unremitting and stubborn and may even radiate to your lower back and thighs.
Granted, these menopause cramps may feel like their menstrual cousins, but the causes of cramps during menopause are (obviously) different. Here are some other reasons you could be experiencing cramps during menopause. Don’t worry. Although there are many reasons for cramps during menopause, they don’t always mean you have a serious problem. Here are some (but not all) potential causes:
Uterine Fibroids. These non-cancerous growths of the uterus don’t always cause symptoms. But when they do, you may feel pelvic pressure or pain as well as backache or leg pain.
Endometriosis. When the tissue that normally lines your uterus grows outside of it (like in or around the bowel, bladder, vagina or cervix), it can cause pelvic or intestinal pain.
Constipation. Defined as having less than three bowel movements a week, stools that are hard or difficult to pass can cause chronic pain in the abdominal region.
Ovarian Cancer. Though not common, this cancer is more deadly than any other female reproductive cancer and can cause lower abdominal pain.
Uterine Cancer. This type cancer is more common after menopause. It usually begins in the endometrium (uterine lining). Among its other symptoms like trouble urinating, abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge and painful sex, is pelvic pain.
Stomach Virus. Also known as gastroenteritis, this is when the lining of the intestines become inflamed and can cause abdominal pain.
Food Poisoning. Long with vomiting and diarrhea, fever or nausea, stomach cramps are among the most common symptoms of eating or drinking contaminated food or drink.
Appendicitis. The most common symptom of appendicitis is abdominal pain.
Gallbladder Issues. Gallstones or gallbladder issues may be felt in the mid to upper portion of your abdomen.
Gas and Bloating. Trapped gas in your digestive system can make you feel bloated and create abdominal cramps.
Crohn’s Disease. Among its other symptoms, like diarrhea and weight loss, this autoimmune condition can cause painful abdominal cramping.
But wait, there’s more…
Cramps during menopause sometimes come with other symptoms, like:
Lower back pain
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Unexplained weight change (loss or gain)
Leg pain or swelling
Abdominal bloating or gas
Painful urination or bowel movements
What should you do if you experience cramps during menopause?
It’s always wise to see your healthcare provider for a pelvic exam to get to the root of the cause of your cramps during menopause. Besides a laparoscopy, a colonoscopy or lab tests, she might also use:
A CT scan
An MRI scan
A hysterosonography and hysteroscopy
How to treat cramps after menopause
Once you rule out any serious causes, there’s always the trusted heating pad or hot water bottle as well as over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help treat your menopause cramps.
For some people, exercise can help relieve the pain and discomfort (as well as alleviate stress, which can sometimes spike when you’re in pain!).
Remember to always talk to your healthcare provider if cramps during menopause are cramping your style. If you need help finding one, Alloy can help.
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