Once you begin experiencing period cramps, you learn to expect them. Whether you generally experience them the week before your period or when you ovulate, you know what they are and what’s causing them.
But what if you begin to experience cramps that aren’t related to your period? Experiencing abdominal cramping when you least expect it can be a sign of another issue. We’ll talk about what could be causing your cramps, and how you can get relief and feel better.
Period Cramps vs. Other Cramps: What’s the Difference?
Cramps are a normal part of most everyone’s period.
Cramps happen for two reasons:
Cramps before your period. Cramps before your period are usually caused by your uterus. When an egg is released by your ovary and not fertilized, your body gets ready to shed the egg. The lining of your uterus has thickened during ovulation, to prepare for a potential fertilized egg.
As your body prepares to shed the egg and the lining of the uterus, the uterus begins to contract. This helps move the lining down through your cervix and vagina, producing your period.
The contracting of the uterus is what causes cramping before your period, and during the first few days of your period.
Cramps during ovulation. If you experience cramps about two weeks after your period, you’re experiencing ovulation cramps. Your monthly cycle prepares and releases an egg every 28 days, on average.
Around day 14 of your cycle, your body releases an egg from one of your ovaries. A day or so before you ovulate, you may experience cramping that is isolated on one side of your lower abdomen. This generally indicates which ovary is ovulating that particular month.
Most of the time, period cramps are felt in the lower part of your abdomen, below your belly button. Cramps can be on both sides, one side, or directly in the middle. Period cramps can feel like waves of pain that come and go, or throbbing and aching that is constant.
Non-period cramps can be located in the same area as your period cramps, but you can also feel them higher up in your abdomen, above your belly button in your mid-section.
These cramps may feel more or less severe, so it can be hard to determine whether or not they’re related to your period, unless you are experiencing them during a time in your cycle when you normally don’t have cramps.
Possible Cause of Cramps But No Period
Unless you’ve been regularly tracking your monthly cycle, you may not know whether your cramps are a sign your period is coming, or related to something else entirely.
Here are a few possible causes of cramps that aren’t related to menstruation:
Your digestive system is made up of many different body parts. When one of these parts experiences irritation or disease, you can have symptoms that include cramping, loose stool, and/or constipation.
If you know you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and are experiencing cramps not related to your period, you may be experiencing a flare up. Alternatively, if you’ve never been diagnosed with any type of bowel disorder or disease, cramps could indicate there could be something happening in your digestive tract that needs attention.
Ovarian cysts occur every month. During the follicular phase of your monthly cycle, your body prepares to release an egg to be fertilized. Your ovary prepares a functional cyst that holds the egg until it is time to be released.
Normally, these cysts rupture when the egg is released and are absorbed into your body. Sometimes, the remnants of the ruptured cyst can hang around and a new, different type of cyst can form.
Most of the time, these types of ovarian cysts are harmless and will eventually rupture and be absorbed by your body. However, sometimes the cysts can grow very large, and cause cramping. You may experience cramping in your abdomen and also in your lower back and hips.
If you’re experiencing cramps and missing your period, there’s a chance you could be pregnant. Getting your monthly period is the best pregnancy test you can take if you are sexually active, because your period indicates an egg has not been fertilized.
If you have just recently missed a period, you may experience implantation cramping. This happens when a fertilized egg implants into the lining of the uterus. Usually, this cramping can mimic period cramps, but doesn’t last more than a few hours.
You may also experience spotting during implantation. This is also normal, and can be a symptom of an early pregnancy.
Endometriosis is a condition that involves the improper growth of uterine tissue in other parts of your body, like your ovaries and fallopian tubes. This can be a painful condition that sometimes requires surgery.
Cramping from endometriosis feels similar to period cramps but you can experience them any time of the month. You might also experience cramping in other parts of your body, like your low back, upper abdomen.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is another reproductive organ disease that affects your uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and vagina. It is caused by an infection that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
Cramping that occurs with PID is usually felt on both sides of your abdomen, and is usually accompanied by spotting, nausea and/or vomiting, and fever. If you think you may have PID, you should see your doctor immediately.
We’ve all heard stories of sudden onset appendicitis and the sharp one-sided pain that usually accompanies it. However, you can experience appendicitis that doesn’t require immediate, emergency surgery.
Normally, cramps begin in the center of your stomach, but as your appendicitis worsens, the cramps are located on the lower right side of your abdomen. Appendicitis sufferers normally have additional side effects like nausea, vomiting, and fever.
It’s important that you seek medical attention immediately if you think you have appendicitis.
How to Get Relief From Cramps
Cramps can feel like a punch in the stomach that completely zaps you of energy and focus. Thankfully, there are holistic and natural ways to care for yourself when you get cramps, whether or not they are related to your period.
Here are four ways to deal with cramps naturally:
When you have cramps, the last thing you may want to think about is exercising, but breaking a sweat can actually help alleviate your pain. Exercise releases endorphins which naturally helps block the signal of pain from your contracting uterus.
Exercise also helps improve circulation, which can help increase blood flow to the uterus and alleviate the cramping.
It isn’t necessary to do an incredibly grueling workout; even a fifteen minute walk can help you feel better.
2. Stay Hydrated
When your body is dehydrated, it can make you feel worse and make your cramps feel more intense. Increasing your water intake when you are having cramps can help them feel more manageable.
3. Heating Patches
If you had time to sit at home with a heating pad on your lap, you could easily deal with your cramps. Unfortunately, that’s not normally an option for most of us. Thankfully, Rael makes it easy to take a heating pad with you wherever you go with our period care heating patches.
Our heating patches are designed to fit securely inside the front of your panties, so you never have to worry about adhesive irritating your skin. Made with natural ingredients like lemon balm and juniper berry, our heating patches warm to a comfortable temperature to radiant warmth and provide relief.
Heating patches also help promote circulation and blood flow. The best news is that they don’t contain anything that could irritate your skin or disrupt your hormones.
You’ve probably rolled your eyes if you’ve heard that sex can help with cramps, but it’s actually true. When you orgasm, you release endorphins. Just like with exercise, the release of endorphins helps block pain signals which can reduce the discomfort you feel from your cramps.
If you experience severe cramps that aren’t related to your period, you should always get medical attention. Otherwise, cramps can be manageable, even if they aren’t associated with your period. With a positive attitude and natural, holistic remedies, you can handle cramps during any time of the month.
Rael is your trusted source of holistic, natural period care products to help you enjoy your body and your monthly cycle no matter what it gives you. Feel empowered by your period.
Menstrual cramps - Symptoms and Causes | Mayo Clinic
Functional Ovarian Cysts | University of Michigan Health