What Can I Do About My Cramps During Menopause?

3 minute read

By: Sheryl Kraft|Last updated: May 11, 2022
Medically reviewed by: Sharon D. Malone

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.

First, menopause

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. 

AW153 What Can I Do About my Cramps During Menopause (photo showing woman of color in hair wrap reclining on sofa gripping her abdomen in pain)

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. 

AW155 What Can I Do About my Cramps During Menopause (photo with abstract color overlay in orange showing woman on her bed in daylight, bending over in pain)

But wait, there’s more…

Cramps during menopause sometimes come with other symptoms, like:

  • Lower back pain

  • Painful sex

  • Constipation

  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

  • Unexplained weight change (loss or gain)

  • Leg pain or swelling

  • Abdominal bloating or gas

  • Painful urination or bowel movements

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Vaginal bleeding

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

  • An ultrasound 

  • 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. 

Sources:

  1. "Menstrual cramps". Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/symptoms-causes/syc-20374938

  2. "Menopause basics". Office on Woman's Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics

  3. "Postmenopause". Clevelan Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15224-menopause-perimenopause-and-postmenopause#:~:text=Perimenopause%20or%20%22menopause%20transition%22%3A,the%20ovaries%20stop%20releasing%20eggs

  4. "What Is Menopause?". National Institute of Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-and-symptoms-menopause 

  5. "Uterine fibroids". Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/symptoms-causes/syc-20354288

  6. "Endometriosis". Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometriosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354656

  7. "Why Does My Stomach Hurt?". Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-reasons-your-stomach-may-hurt

  8. "Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer". Cancer. org. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html 

  9. "Uterine Cancer". Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16409-uterine-cancer 

  10. "Endometrial Cancer". Cedars-Sinai. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/e/endometrial-cancer.html 

  11. "Food Poisoning Symptoms". CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html 

  12. "Appendicitis". Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/appendicitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20369543

  13. "Gallstones". Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/symptoms-causes/syc-20354214 

  14. "When to Take Stomach Pain and other GI Issues Seriously". Chron's and Colitis Foundation. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ibd/symptoms

  15. Cartwright, Sarah L, and Mark P Knudson. “Diagnostic imaging of acute abdominal pain in adults.” American family physician vol. 91,7 (2015): 452-9.

  16. "Sonohysterography". Radiology Info. https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/hysterosono

  17. "Hysteroscopy". Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/hysteroscopy

  18. "Laparoscopy". Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/laparoscopy/

  19. "How is pelvic pain diagnosed". National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pelvicpain/conditioninfo/diagnosed

  20. "Chronic pelvic pain in women". Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-pelvic-pain/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354371

Written by:

Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft is a seasoned freelance health writer, who writes, and is passionate about, healthy aging, wellness, fitness, nutrition and just about anything related to improving our lifestyle and personal health. Her work has been published widely in print and online outlets, including AARP, Parade, Family Circle, Weight Watchers, Spry, Prevention, WebMD, Everyday Health and many more. Sheryl lives in Fairfield County, CT., with husband Alan and new puppy Annie, and is the mother of two grown sons, Jonathan and Jeremy.

Medically reviewed by:

Sharon D. Malone

Dr. Sharon Malone is among the nation’s leading obstetrician / gynecologists with a focus on the specific health challenges associated with menopause.