According to WebMD, over 50 percent of women experience menstrual cramps, the mild to severe aches that occur in the lower abdomen during a woman’s period.
Women under 30 face the highest risk of getting these painful cramps. Certain risk factors can also make menstrual cramps worse, such as a woman’s weight, other lifestyle factors and certain reproductive health conditions, such as cervical stenosis.
Common factors that can worsen menstrual cramps include:
– Being overweight or obese. Studies show that women who are clinically overweight or obese suffer from more menstrual pain compared to those who maintain a healthy weight.
– Heavy bleeding during periods. Having long periods, or periods lasting for five days or more, can also worsen menstrual cramps.
– Smoking cigarettes. According to the Journal of Epidemiology, women who smoked 10 to 30 cigarettes a day were twice as likely to have menstrual cramps. Long-term smokers–or women who smoked for 10 to 20 years–tripled their risk.
– Drinking alcohol. Women who regularly consumed beer were more likely to develop menstrual pain compared to women who limited or eliminated their beer intake. Wine drinkers, however, actually cut their risk in half.
– Never being pregnant. Women who have never been pregnant report experiencing more severe, frequent period cramps compared to women who have. Some women even say their cramps disappeared after having a child.
– Early puberty. According to the Mayo Clinic, women who began puberty before age 12 experienced more severe menstrual pain compared to those who did not.
– Being under age 30. Period pain tends to be more common in younger women, especially in women who have never been pregnant. Women under age 20 faced the greatest risk for painful cramps.
Health conditions that can cause or worsen menstrual cramps include:
– Cervical stenosis. This can narrow or close off the opening in the cervix, making it difficult for blood to pass.
– Endometriosis. This condition causes endometrial cells to grow outside the uterus, branching out to the ovaries, the pelvic cavity or the vagina. Although it does not always cause pain, it can cause pelvic pain before a period.
– Uterine fibroids. Benign tumors in the wall of the uterus, called uterine fibroids, can grow and cause pain inside the uterus.
Other reproductive conditions can also make menstrual cramps worse, such as adenomyosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or a reproductive organ infection. Treating these conditions early, when the symptoms first occur, can help alleviate pain.
WebMD staff, “Menstrual pain” (WebMD.com)
Mayo Clinic staff, “Menstrual cramps: risk factors” (MayoClinic.com)
Science Service, “Smoking worsens menstrual pain” (TheFreeLibrary.com)