6 Signs Your Period Cramps Are Not Normal

Are Your Period Cramps Normal?

PhotoAlto Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Oh, menstrual cramps... if you’ve never complained about the aches and pains of womanhood to a friend, you’re a rare individual. It’s one of those topics that women chat about frequently, especially younger women.

And yet... with all that talking, you probably still don’t know what’s considered normal and what’s not.

You might get the impression that very painful periods are the norm. Discomfort during menstruation isn’t uncommon, especially in young women. About half of all women experience pelvic achiness during their periods.

With that said, really bad menstrual cramps are not normal.

Severe period cramps can signal a problem – a problem that may impact your fertility.

Here are seven ways to know if your cramps aren’t the regular sort. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your health, talk to your doctor.

Your period cramps keep you from going about your normal life.

Nils Hendrik Mueller / Getty Images

If your period pain is so bad that you need to call off work on a regular basis, you should speak to your doctor.

Depending on the study, between five and 20 percent of women experience painful periods that interfere with their daily life. It’s not rare. But it’s not normal, either.

Some countries offer women a couple days off every month for menstruation. Don’t misconstrue this for saying that menstruation should be so painful that you can’t come to work.

The issue is more complex than that. It’s not even clear whether these laws are good or bad for women.

In 2013, Russian lawmaker Mikhail Degtyaryov proposed that Russia should offer days off for menstruation.

This was his argument:

"During that period (of menstruation), most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort. The pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance.”

See what I mean? Not exactly a realistic portrayal (or understanding) of menstruation.

If your pain is bad enough to call an ambulance, my God, please call one.

Or, in a more likely scenario, if your pain is bad enough to regularly miss work or school, make an appointment to speak to your doctor.

Over-the-counter pain medication isn't offering you relief.

JGI:JamiGrill / Getty Images

For those 20% of women who experience monthly discomfort, most of them can get relief with over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

If over-the-counter medication is not enough to help you get on with your day, then your period cramps aren’t normal.

This is a good place to remind you that over-the-counter does not mean harmless. Over-the-counter is also not a code word for dosage-doesn’t-really-matter.

I’ve spoken to a number of women who admit to taking more than the recommended dosage in order to deal with cramps. Or they combine medications.

Don’t do this. It can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

If the recommended dosages aren’t enough, go to your doctor.

You experience pelvic pain at times besides your period.

Tom Merton / Getty Images

Pelvic discomfort just before your period and during the first few days of your period can be normal. You may also experience some sensitivity around ovulation.

But if you have pelvic pain at other times during your cycle, that may signal a problem.

Another possible sign your cramps aren’t normal are if you experience pain during sex. Some causes of painful sex are also responsible for abnormally bad period cramps.

Your menstrual cramps last more than two to three days.

Julia Nichols / Getty Images

It’s normal for the bleeding during menstruation to last anywhere from two to seven days.

It’s not normal, however, to have bad period cramps during that entire time.

Two or three days of menstrual discomfort is considered to be normal.

Cramps may start the day of or day just before the bleeding starts, but they should not continue all the way until the end of your period.

They certainly shouldn’t still be there after your period ends.

You're worried your period cramps aren't normal.

LWA:LarryWilliams / Getty Images

If you’re worried your period cramps aren’t normal, then you should take that concern seriously.

Worrying isn’t a sign that something is wrong, but it could suggest things might be wrong.

Many people are afraid to talk to their doctors about symptoms that can’t easily be quantified.

If you have a fever, your doc can confirm that by taking your temperature.

If you’re experiencing pain, your doctor has to take your word for it. This keeps a lot of people from seeking help.

Also – sadly – complaints about pain (especially coming from a woman) are sometimes dismissed by those in the medical profession.

If you brought up your pain to a doctor in the past, and they brushed it off as not serious, you may be remiss to bring it up again.

But you should bring it up again. Especially if you’re concerned about it. You really should.

Some of the possible causes for painful cramps -- like endometriosis -- are diseases that take years to get properly diagnosed.

Keep asking for help until someone hears you.

You have other worrying symptoms.

Dave and Les Jacobs / Getty Images

Maybe you’re really not sure whether your cramps are normal or not... but you also experience other worrisome (related) symptoms.

Other worrisome symptoms may include:

Bottom line: if you’re worried – for whatever reason – talk to your doctor. 

Warning: If severe cramping is accompanied by fever, vomiting, dizziness, or unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, call your doctor immediately.

Also, if the pain is especially severe, call your doctor right away.

Severe abdominal or pelvic pain may indicate something more serious than your period, like an ectopic pregnancy, toxic shock syndrome, acute PID, or appendicitis.

More on the menstrual cycle and female reproductive system:


Dysmenorrhea . Clinical Evidence Handbook: A Publication of BMJ Publishing Group. Accessed May 22, 2015. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0215/p386.html

Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Accessed May 22, 2015.  http://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq046.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20150522T1205233179

Matchar, Emily. Should Paid 'Menstrual Leave' Be a Thing? Published May 16, 2014. Accessed May 22, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/05/should-women-get-paid-menstrual-leave-days/370789/

Owoseje, Toyin. Menstruation Leave: Russian Lawmaker Proposes Paid Days Off For Women Employees on Period. July 31, 2013 17:12 BST. Accessed May 22, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/russian-lawmaker-proposes-paid-days-menstruating-women-495918

Continue Reading