Menstrual Cramps & Premenstrual Syndrome

Menstrual cramps are a part of premenstrual syndrome, right? Wrong. You can probably figure out why this is wrong from reading the title more closely. Menstrual cramps occur during menstruation while premenstrual syndrome occurs prior to menstruation. Still confused? Read on and I'll explain.


Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to the many and varied symptoms women of menstruating age (normally 13-50 years) experience one to two days prior to menstruation (i.e. when they start their period). Symptoms may be physical, mental, or emotional and often disrupt daily life for a short period. The most common reported PMS symptoms include the following:
  • Tension or anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Crying spells
  • Mood swings and irritability or anger
  • Appetite changes and food cravings
  • Trouble falling asleep (insomnia)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor concentration
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain from fluid retention
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Acne flare-ups
  • Constipation or diarrhea
There isn't one single cause for all PMS symptoms, however changing hormone levels can account for many of them. One example is endorphins. Endorphins, also known as the feel-good hormones, are normally present in small amounts within the nervous system. Several days before a woman starts menstruating endorphin levels drop, leading to irritable behavior.


Menstruation is a normal part of the menstrual cycle, occurring approximately every 28 days and lasting 3 to 7 days on average. At the beginning of every menstrual cycle, the uterus receives direction (in the form of hormones from the ovaries) to thicken its inner lining, or endometrium. This special tissue becomes spongy and filled with blood vessels, providing a nutrient-rich environment for a fertilized egg. If an egg released from the ovaries remains unfertilized, the uterus is then instructed to break down and shed this thickened tissue.

Enter the Menstrual Cramp

As estrogen and progesterone hormone levels decline, the endometrium becomes swollen and eventually dies. To be rid of this dying tissue, the body releases molecules called prostaglandins which cause the muscles of the uterus to contract. These contractions are necessary to expel degraded endometrium through the cervix so that it may drain out of the vagina. While involuntary muscle contraction can be uncomfortable, the pain of menstrual cramps is most often the result of clots being forced through the small cervical opening. Most of the time, the severity of a woman's cramps is directly related to the pressure on the cervix due to things being shoved through it (hence why giving birth is much more painful than menstruating).

Soothing Menstrual Cramps

There are several natural ways to relieve the pain associated with menstrual cramps. As is helpful with most any condition, getting plenty of sleep will reduce stress which can exacerbate the pain of menstrual cramps. Applying heat and/or gentle pressure can also relieve menstrual pain. And, while most people don't like to move around while in pain, walking and other gentle exercises can increase endorphin levels, allowing you to better deal with pain, as well as help to pass clots through the cervix.

If you experience menstrual cramping, realize that you're not alone: over 50% of women feel cramps in response to menstruation. Try some of these natural treatments to lessen the pain of menstrual cramping. You may be surprised just how well they work.


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