Many women consider cramping and pelvic pain to be signs that their period is on the way and will reach for trusted over-the-counter painkillers like Cipladon effervescent paracetamol. However, these symptoms, which are commonly considered to be period pains, can also from time to time actually be a sign of something else. While this type of cramping may go away after a short while, you shouldn’t hesitate to consult with your healthcare provider if anything seems abnormal.
What else can cause cramping and pelvic pain?
Some of the causes of abdominal cramping and pelvic pain are mostly benign. Others, however, are symptoms of more serious conditions, which will require professional medical diagnosis and treatment. Here are some common causes of “phantom” period pain:1
Many women who have not gone through menopause, or have not had a hysterectomy, experience cramps about 10 to 14 days before menstruation. This usually coincides with ovulation, when the ovaries release an egg. The pain may occur in the lower abdomen, usually on the side where the egg was released, and typically lasts a few minutes to a few hours.2
In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, where the fetus attaches outside of the uterus — typically in the fallopian tubes — a pain can occur in the lower abdomen. The pain can also worsen to the point where it’s felt in the lower back and shoulder.3
When this occurs, it can initially feel like period pains, abdominal pain, low back ache that may range from mild to severe. This can be followed by vaginal bleeding, progressing from light to heavy. If you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, contact your healthcare provider right away.4
Irritable bowel syndrome:
This condition causes bloating, stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhoea. The pain may go away after a bowel movement. It usually worsens during your period.5
Ovarian cysts are a fairly common occurrence. They are fluid-filled sacs that form inside an ovary or on its surface. More often than not they disappear on their own, and without symptoms. However, sometimes they can cause severe pain, especially when they burst. Large cysts can cause pelvic pain in the form of a dull ache in your back, on the side where the cyst has formed. You may also feel heavy and bloated.6
The pain caused by ovarian cancer can initially be rather vague, and feel like something more benign, like constipation or bloatedness. However, the pain won’t go away quickly. You may notice an increase in the size of your abdomen after a while, and a strong and frequent urge to urinate.7
Endometriosis (pronounced ad-den-o-mi-o-sis) is the layer of tissue that lines the inside of the uterus. In endometriosis, this tissue grows outside the uterus, typically on the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This condition can cause frequent cramping throughout the month. Painful bowel movements are also common.8
When should you consult a healthcare provider?
While some kinds of cramping and pain that mimic period pain are not serious and will go away after a short while, care should be taken to not dismiss more persistent pain too hastily. The danger is that an erroneous self-diagnosis can lead to a more serious condition not being treated in time. If the pain lasts for more than a few days, and more concurrent symptoms are present, it’s a good idea to consult your gynecologist or healthcare provider in case there’s something more serious at play. They may recommend a pelvic exam or ultrasound scan if they suspect that the pain is related to the uterus or ovaries and not just a normal part of your menstruation cycle. Your healthcare provider may also refer you to a specialist if stomach or intestinal disorders are suspected.
- Gennev. 2022. No Period, No Cramps, Right? Not Always.. [online] Available at: <https://gennev.com/education/perimenopause-cramps-pain> (26/01/2022).
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Ovulation Pain: Symptoms, Causes & Pain Relief. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9134-ovulation-pain-mittelschmerz> (11/24/2020).
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Ectopic Pregnancy: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments & Tests. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9687-ectopic-pregnancy> (07/22/2019).
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Miscarriage: Risks, Symptoms, Causes & Treatments. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9688-miscarriage> (07/22/2019)
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Irritable Bowel Syndrome: IBS, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4342-irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs> (09/24/2020).
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Ovarian Cysts: Management & Treatment, Symptoms, Diagnosis. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9133-ovarian-cysts> (10/09/2019).
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Ovarian Cancer: Risk Factors, Signs, Stages, Diagnosis & Treatment. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4447-ovarian-cancer> (07/10/2020).
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Endometriosis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Tests. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10857-endometriosis> (05/29/2014).