Is my period early this month?” is the question that many women, including you, might raise when you start experiencing cramping pains in your lower belly a week or at times, two weeks before your expected date.
In about 50% of reproductive (fertile) women, periods are usually accompanied by ‘dysmenorrhea’ or in simpler words, ‘pain during menstruation. While many women might experience cramps in their lower abdomen, some might also complain of severe premenstrual pain or lower back pain before the period.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is an umbrella term coined for a host of symptoms and signs – including cramps in the lower belly – that three in four women experience before their period starts. In addition to cramping pains, PMS might also cause you to experience tedious mood swings, fatigue, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and food cravings as early as a week to 2 weeks before you get your period.
While lower belly cramps serve as a monthly reminder for women of childbearing age of ‘that time of the month, for others, it might cause severe distress and hindrance in performing daily activities. But, what causes cramps before the period?
Period Cramps A Week Before Period
To address the reason behind the cramps a week before a period, we need to understand why women experience cramps in the first place. As mentioned above, dysmenorrhea indicates the onset of pain during a period, which commonly begins a few days or a couple of weeks earlier. There are two types of dysmenorrhea which are rightfully classified as primary and secondary in relation to their causative factors.
Primary Dysmenorrhea (Menstrual Pain)
Our body produces prostaglandins, a group of hormones that are particularly secreted in our body in response to an injury, stress, illness, or infection. Prostaglandins are also released in the body to induce labor at the end of pregnancy. They are also released before the start of a period to expel the muscular lining of the uterus if ‘implantation’ does not occur. Prostaglandins, therefore, helps to control the inflammatory processes and in turn manage the blood flow and clot formation at the start of a period.
Similarly, prostaglandins help your uterus to contract, causing it to evacuate its lining from the body through the vagina. As your uterus walls contract, you might experience cramping pains or throbbing sensations in your lower belly or back.
Severe Cramps Before Period: What Are They?
Secondary Dysmenorrhea is caused by disorders of the gynecologic tract such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. From infections to benign tumors of the genital tract, knowing your reproductive pathology can help you prevent the progression of any severe disease.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): One of the main causes of secondary dysmenorrhea is a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or as the name suggests, infection of the organs in the female genital tract. PID is usually transmitted sexually and can cause severe cramps before a period. PID is one of the most common causes of pain during sexual intercourse as well.
Endometriosis and Adenomyosis: Endometriosis and Adenomyosis are two pelvic inflammatory disorders in which there is an abnormal growth of the uterine tissue or lining.
In endometriosis, the entire uterus as well as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the pelvis, are coated by the uterine lining (also known as the endometrium). In adenomyosis, this uterine lining expands into the uterine muscular wall. When ruptured, they might cause severe cramping pains during and before a period. Endometriosis and Adenomyosis are debilitating and might require hospitalization due to severe blood loss and irregular cramping pain.
Uterine Fibroids and Tumors: While uterine fibroids are non-cancerous or benign tumors that grow within the uterus, they can cause severe pain during or before periods. While fibroids rarely pose any health deteriorations, their uneven displacement in the uterus can hinder the blood flow during periods and cause severe cramps before a period.
What Causes Pre-Menstruation Cramps?
While cramping pains usually accompany the start of a period, in some cases, your body might experience severe cramping episodes in the back as the uterus prepares itself for menstruation. Severe cramps before a period are indicative of the secretion of higher levels of prostaglandins in your body.
Two other reproductive hormones, estrogen, and progesterone are responsible for preparing your uterus for a possible pregnancy and fertility. Chemical imbalances between the secretory levels of estrogen and progesterone can at times, pose sensitivities and induce cramping during or before a period as well.
While cramping pains during a period might bring sad news for many women alike, it might be a relief to say that menstrual pain decreases in intensity with age. You might experience severe cramping pain during the first few years of your monthly cycles, and perhaps, no cramping at all as your body gets used to menstruation.
How to Treat Period Pain Before Menstruation?
For starters, you need to identify whether the spotting and cramping before your period are indicative of your period or a serious gynecological issue. Please note: if you experience severe cramps before a period all of a sudden, you need to discuss your condition with your doctor.
In order to keep your uterus healthy, it is important to provide your body with nutrition.
Everybody experiences pain on a different threshold. While a woman might experience severe discomfort during a painful trigger in the lower belly, another might find it relatively tolerable.
What Can Help If I Have Cramps Before Periods?
- Vitamins and Minerals:
Vitamin D: Adequate levels of Vitamin D help ease inflammation in the body, as well as reduce the psychological (such as depression) and physical symptoms of PMS, and menstrual pain. At least 50,000 IU/week of Vitamin D is recommended for the alleviation of PMS symptoms, such as cramping pains in the lower belly, backache, bloating due to water retention, and mood swings.
Calcium: Calcium intake is also necessary for managing cramps before a period. While some people are lactose intolerant and find it difficult to digest milk or any other source of dairies such as yogurt and cheese; many others choose a non-dairy diet and miss out on their daily advised calcium intake. In order to make up for the missing nutrients in the body, it is necessary to follow a daily intake of 1200 – 1500 mg of calcium in the form of readily available supplements.
Bonus: Vitamin D also helps to reduce the inflammation involved in psoriasis (a skin condition). Adequate calcium levels also help to prevent excessive bone turnover, or in other words, bone loss.
Magnesium: Magnesium has also been linked to causing a significant decrease in the symptoms of PMS, mainly breast soreness, pre-period pains, and bloating. While 300 to 400 mg of magnesium as standard daily dosing might prove to be helpful, it is always advisable to consult your doctor before starting core supplementations. You can also find magnesium in dried fruits such as almonds and peanuts.
- Adequate Nourishment
Dairy might aggravate bloating caused during or before periods. Try to balance a healthy diet by incorporating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Add oats and quinoa to your diet and try not to consume alcohol or refined sugar as they can cause or aggravate bloating.
While caffeine can provoke bloating and cramps, try avoiding coffee. If you depend on coffee as your daily wake-up call, try to minimize the amount. While chocolate contains caffeine, it can help satiate your food cravings as well as keep your bloating and cramps before your period at bay.
A tip: Go for your favorite comfort food, but remember, oily or fast food contains high amounts of salt which can worsen your cramping symptoms.
Home remedies for pre-period cramps
For mild to moderate symptoms, there are a few home remedies that can help you manage your cramps a lot better.
Exercise has a myriad of benefits for the body’s well-being. During exercise, your brain releases endorphins or ‘happy hormones’ that help to induce an elaborate feeling of comfort, happiness, excitement, and pleasure. At the same time, these happy hormones also help to keep pre-period pain and distress at bay.
But, can you opt for high-impact exercises during your period? Due to the discomfort from the cramps before the period, it might be difficult to opt for high-intensity interval training or strength training exercises. But, there is always yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to consider when you are feeling low.
(Please note that endorphins are neurotransmitters that are secreted by the brain, similar to serotonin. Many call them hormones because it is easier for people to remember and refer to)
- Over-the-counter Painkillers
In no way should you tolerate the pain caused by cramps before your period. Before the cramping turns severe, try to consult your primary care physician for advice on a painkiller that you can take safely.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Naproxen, Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, and Aspirin are available quite easily at any pharmacy or drugstore. Most painkillers can be taken prophylactically, or in simpler words, a few days before your period starts to prevent severe cramping pains and breast soreness.
You can also take the painkillers twice to three times a day, for 3 to 5 days or as long as your cramps persist. Have your doctor write you a prescription if required by your nearest drugstore.
Naproxen is by far considered to be a godsend for managing premenstrual and menstrual cramping episodes. A daily dose of 500 mg twice is recommended to help alleviate pain during periods. You can either take 500 mg twice daily as mentioned earlier or reduce the dose to 250 mg on an 8-hourly basis.
- A Heating Pad
A hot water bottle has been one of the leading home remedies for alleviating severe cramping pain during or before a period. Keep a hot water bottle or heating pad on the back of your lower belly, lie down and stretch to feel relaxed. Taking a hot water bath can also help you manage your cramps, and in turn, leave you feeling refreshed.
When to Speak with a Doctor?
While you should consult your primary care physician the moment you suspect severe cramping pain before a period, there are times when you might not have access to carry out a simple visit. So, when should you consider speaking with your doctor about the cramps before your period?
- As we mentioned earlier, cramps before a period decrease in intensity as you age. However, if you are 25 years old or younger than 30 years old, and suddenly experience a severe cramping sensation in your lower belly, consider speaking with your primary care doctor.
- Your cramping pains are not alleviated by routine over-the-counter painkillers.
- Your PMS is becoming too aggressive by causing you severe anxiety or depression in addition to debilitating cramping episodes.
- If you are sexually active, experiencing cramping pain in your lower belly two weeks before your period can be a sign of a possible pregnancy.
- If you are experiencing a stinging on pinching pain instead of the continuous throbbing and dull pain that you commonly experience.
- If the pain is accompanied by severe nausea, headaches such as migraines, and dizziness.
The Final Note
While we might consider stomach pain before the period as particularly common, there are a few other medical conditions that might induce similar symptoms. These symptoms might be unrelated to your period, but at times hints towards the onset of an illness such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), food poisoning, or the stomach flu.
But unlike menstrual pain, a UTI is usually accompanied by fever, pain in the loins, urinary urgency or frequency, and/or a burning sensation during and after urination. While many might experience diarrhea before their period, the episodes are not as frequent or severe as those caused by food poisoning.
Fertility does not have to come with a foreboding sign. Menstrual flow can be quite heavy during the first couple of days of a period. But, if you experience severe bleeding, a longer-than-normal cycle, or irregular periods, you might need to consult a doctor. Regular menstrual cycles with an adequate flow are suggestive of a healthy body, and in turn, a healthy uterus.
Always remember to consult your primary care doctor regarding pre-period pains that are hard to counter with home remedies.
– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.
About The AuthorDr. Syra Hanif M.D.
Board Certified Primary Care Physician
Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.Read More