Cramps Before Period: Causes, Treatments, and When to See a Doctor

Cramps Before Period: Causes, Treatments, and When to See a Doctor

Many women experience cramps just before their period as a sign that menstruation is about to start. Abdominal cramping before the period can cause discomfort that results in mild to severe aches and pains. For some women, cramping can start as early as a week before their period begins and may last into the first few days of their period.

However, cramping before the start of your menstrual period isn’t always connected with menses. Sometimes, implantation can cause mild cramps around the time you expect your period to begin. There are some serious reasons for abdominal cramping and vaginal bleeding before menstruation. For example, endometriosis, growths (benign and cancerous) on the reproductive organs, and pelvic inflammatory disease can cause pre-period cramping.

The best way to treat aching in the lower abdominal area before menstruation is to apply heat to the pelvis. A heating pad or taking a warm bath helps to relax the muscles and ease discomfort in the lower stomach.

This article looks in depth at the most common causes of cramps before your period. You will also find out the causes of abdominal cramping before your period that are not connected with your menstrual cycle. You will also learn how to get rid of any cramping in your pelvic area.

Symptoms of Cramping Before Period

Pre-menstrual cramping occurs as the result of muscle spasms in your reproductive organs. Dr. Traci Johnson, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology, says that muscle contractions in your uterus cause discomfort that ranges from mild aches to sharp, sudden pains.1

Depending on the cause of your pre-period cramping, you might also have other symptoms. For example, you might notice signs of pink spotting that are associated with ovulation or implantation. Also, you might find that you have milky white discharge or you might have brown discharge before your period.

Not all women experience the same painful symptoms before their period. For example. Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet says that the cramps can sometimes be very painful and affect everyday activities or they could just be a dull ache. The abdominal pain can also cause aches in your lower back and also pain in your inner thighs.2

Other symptoms that may accompany cramping before your period are headaches, constipation or diarrhea, and an increased need to pee frequently.

Causes of Cramps Before Your Period

Here are some of the most common causes of cramping before your period that are connected with your reproductive system.

Pre-menstrual cramping 1 or 2 days before period

Many women experience cramping before their period as part of their normal menstrual cycle.

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic say that pre-menstrual cramps are called dysmenorrhea. This causes mild to severe abdominal pains a day or two before the menstrual bleeding begins. For some women, the cramping can last for up to 3 days. Along with the menstrual cramps, you may experience diarrhea, extreme tiredness, or a feeling of pressure in the abdomen.3

There are many effective home remedies to relieve pre-menstrual cramping. For example, taking fish oil and vitamin B1 supplements can help manage cramping pain before period. Also, many essential oils have proven pain-relief properties and can be used in a massage oil to apply to your abdomen. One of these essential oils is cedarwood oil which helps to regulate menstruation and thus provide relief from menstrual cramps.

Cramps before period caused by ovulation

Abdominal cramps 2 weeks before your period could be a sign of ovulation.

Ovulation occurs around the middle of your cycle and usually happens 2 weeks before the start of your next period. According to the American Pregnancy Association, spotting and cramping often happen during ovulation. Some women can experience sudden sharp abdominal pains when they ovulate and this is called mittelschmerz.4

Because only one ovary releases an egg, ovulation can cause one-sided abdominal pain. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that the cramps before your period can be accompanied by thick white ovulation discharge and possibly light pinkish spotting.5

Implantation cramping just before the menstrual period

You could have cramps before your period if implantation has happened and you have become pregnant.

For many women, implantation cramping and implantation spotting are some of the first signs of pregnancy.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, implantation cramping along with spotting happens a week to 2 weeks after conception. The abdominal cramping happens when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. In fact, the light cramping can happen so close to the start of the period that some women mistake implantation cramping for their period.6

Some of the other early signs of pregnancy include white discharge, hormonal changes that affect breast size and your mood, increased levels of fatigue, and nausea with or without vomiting.

Of course, taking a pregnancy test at the right time is the only way to know if you are pregnant.

Ovarian cysts can cause pre-menstrual cramping

One reason for cramping before your period starts is if you have ovarian cysts.

Ovarian cysts are viewed as a normal part of the menstrual cycle and usually disappear by themselves. Dr. William Shiel on MedicineNet says that some ovarian cysts can start causing abdominal pain if they grow large or rupture. The pain ovarian cysts cause can radiate from the lower stomach to the back and may cause pain during sexual intercourse.7

Ovarian cysts are also a reason for right-sided abdominal pain. However, you may also feel sharp abdominal pains just on your left side.

Many doctors treat ovarian cysts with a “wait and see” approach. If the pain becomes severe and there is abnormal bleeding, the best way to treat the discomfort is to remove the cysts. Removing the ovarian cysts is sometimes done as a precaution against ovarian cancer.

Endometriosis and uterus pain before menstruation

Cramping before menstruation starts could be a sign of endometriosis.

Endometrial tissue that grows outside of the uterus on other reproductive organs is called endometriosis. Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that bad to severe abdominal cramping is the most common symptom of endometriosis. The painful cramps can happen before menstruation, during, or after your period.8

Other symptoms of endometriosis include light spotting between your periods, painful bowel movements, and cramping after intercourse.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

One reason you could be cramping before menstruation is if you have pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Bacteria that get into your reproductive system can affect your reproductive organs and cause abdominal cramping without period. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, PID will also cause abnormal vaginal discharge that has a bad smell. PID could also be a reason why your period blood is black or very dark.9

Some reasons for contracting pelvic inflammatory disease include sexually transmitted disease (STD), having an intrauterine device fitted, or a bacterial infection after childbirth.

Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that you get treated for STDs and pelvic inflammatory disease as soon as possible. Complications of PID include damage to the reproductive organs, chronic abdominal pain, or infertility.10

Uterine fibroids and pre-period cramping

Uterine fibroids are harmless growths inside the muscle (myometrium) of the uterus that can cause mild to severe cramping before your period.

Doctors from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that fibroids often cause dull aching pelvic pain. This lower abdominal pain often is worse just before your period and can also cause post period cramping. Uterine fibroids can also cause you to have heavier than usual periods which can result in anemia.11

Gynecologists usually monitor the progress of fibroids. If fibroids cause severe abdominal cramping before menses or they grow very large, the growths are usually surgically removed.


In rare occasions, chronic pelvic aches and pain before your period could be a sign of ovarian cancer or uterine cancer.

It is good to remember, that the reasons for cramping and spotting before your period are usually an indicator of something less sinister.

According to Cancer Research UK, you should get a checkup if you have chronic, painful cramping that doesn’t go away along with unexplained bloating. This can help doctors rule out the possibility of cancer.12

Other Reasons for Cramping Before Period

Let’s look at some of the reasons for mild to intense cramps before your period that aren’t connected with your reproductive system.

Stress as a cause of stomach cramps before period

Being under a lot of stress is one reason why you could be cramping before your period is due.

Stress can cause a hormonal imbalance in your body that results in dysfunction of your menstrual cycle.

Doctors from Harvard Medical School also pointed to another way stress causes abdominal cramps. Studies have shown that intense psychological or emotional stress can cause cramps in your lower abdomen.13 This can happen at any time during your menstrual cycle but often occurs before you are expecting your next period.

To help prevent stress causing cramping before your period is due, you can try some natural ways to get rid of stress. Among the ways to help reduce stress levels are inhaling calming essential oils to soothe your mind and emotions or doing meditation.

Also, eating foods to balance your hormones can help to reduce internal stress in your body and regulate your menstrual cycle. That can reduce the overall effect that stress has on your body.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

If your period hasn’t started yet and you start to get cramping in your lower stomach, it could be a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome.

According to Dr. Nayana Ambardekar on WebMD, hormonal fluctuations during your menstrual cycle can impact on the severity of symptoms of IBS. When hormone levels are low just before and during your period, stomach cramping can become more intense. Also, premenstrual symptoms like pre-period cramps are more common among IBS suffers.14

If you suffer from IBS and you have throbbing cramps before your period, please check out my article on natural treatments to manage irritable bowel syndrome.

Other reasons for cramping between periods

Other reasons for abdominal cramping before your period or after your period include conditions like:

Best Home Treatments for Cramps Before Period

Whatever the cause of your pre-menstruation cramping, there are some effective home remedies to help relieve cramping pain in the lower stomach.

Heat pad to ease cramping before your period

A heating pad is a great way to get rid of cramping pain that you feel before your period. Warmth can help to reduce abdominal pain that is the result of premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, ovulation, ovarian cysts, or uterine fibroids.

In fact, according to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, using heat for menstrual pain relief can be as effective as taking pain relievers. This is one of the cheapest and best ways to treat pre-menstrual cramps at home.15

How to use a heating pad for pre-period cramping

You can easily make your own heating pad to help relieve abdominal aches and cramps before menstruation starts. This is what you should do:

  1. Take a hot water bottle and fill it three-quarters full with hot (not boiling water) and secure tightly.
  2. Put a towel over your abdomen and place the hot water bottle on it.
  3. Leave the heating pad in place for 15-20 minutes to ease cramping and premenstrual abdominal discomfort.
  4. Use the hot water bottle 3-4 times a day in the days before your period to get rid of the cramps.

Exercise regularly to prevent cramping

Another way to help reduce episodes of cramping before the start of your period is to keep yourself in shape by exercising.

According to Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet, physical exercise can help to get relief from menstrual cramping. This is because exercise releases pain-relieving endorphins and can manage cramps associated with the menstrual cycle.2

For some ideas about exercises to help keep you in shape and reduce menstrual cramps, please read my article on the easy exercises for great legs and butt you can do at home.

Cramps Before Period – When to See a Doctor

Usually, home remedies for relieving menstrual cramps are enough to manage the pain. However, severe cramping that regularly happens before your period could be a sign of something more serious.

Dr. Traci Johnson on WebMD says that if menstrual cramping lasts for more than 3 days, you should see your doctor for a checkup.1

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Article Sources

  1. WebMD. What are menstrual cramps?
  2. MedicineNet. What are the symptoms of premenstrual cramps?
  3. ClevelandClinic. Dysmenorrhea.
  4. AmericanPregnancy. Understanding ovulation.
  5. MayoClinic. Mittelschmerz.
  6. MayoClinic. Getting pregnant.
  7. MedicineNet. Ovarian cysts.
  8. WebMD. A visual guide to endometriosis.
  9. MayoClinic. Pelvic inflammatory disease.
  10. CDC. Pelvic inflammatory disease.
  11. ACOG. Uterine fibroids.
  12. CancerResearchUK. Symptoms of ovarian cancer.
  13. HealthHarvard. Stress and the sensitive gut.
  14. WebMD. Hormones and IBS.
  15. MayoClinic. Menstrual cramps. Treatment.

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