What to Expect When You See Your Doctor for Menstrual Cramps

woman with stomach pain sitting in doctor's office waiting room
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If you’re ready to call your doctor for an appointment about menstrual cramps, either you have menstrual cramps that remain unresolved after you’ve tried self-help remedies for 3 months or you have signs and symptoms that indicate you need to see the doctor sooner.

So, What Will Happen When You See Your Doctor for Menstrual Cramps?

Like many visits to the doctor, your visit for menstrual cramps begins with a check of your weight, height, blood pressure, and temperature.

Next, the nurse will ask questions about your menstrual cycle and symptoms.

The first question you’ll hear will be about the date of your last period (this is the first day you experienced any amount of bleeding).

If this is your first visit to this doctor, you’ll need to tell the nurse when you had your Pap smear, or if you've never had one at all. 

Be Prepared to Answer These Other Questions at Your Visit

  • Have you always experienced menstrual cramps? When did you first experience menstrual cramps?
  • When do you experience menstrual cramps? Do you have them before your period begins? If so, how many days before your period begins do your cramps begin?
  • Do menstrual cramps stop when you begin bleeding, or do they continue during your period? How many days into your period do menstrual cramps last? Do you experience menstrual cramps on any other days of your menstrual cycle?
  • How does it feel when you have menstrual cramps? Does the pain feel sharp? Is it a dull pain? Does your pain come and go, or is your pain constant? Has your pain changed or increased?
  • Are you sexually active? If so, do you use contraceptives? What type of contraceptives do you use?
  • The last time you had your period, was the flow normal or was it heavier or lighter than usual?
  • Do you bleed excessively during your period? Do you have periods that last longer than 5 days?
  • Does your menstrual flow contain blood clots? While having blood clots and tissue in your menstrual flow is usually normal, in some cases, your answer to this question can help your doctor determine the cause of your menstrual cramps.
  • Does your period arrive on a predictable schedule?
  • Do you use tampons during your period? Tampon safety has long been a subject of debate. Many women swear that they no longer experienced menstrual cramps once they stopped using tampons.
  • What have you tried to relieve your menstrual cramps? Did it provide any relief?
  • Is there anything that makes the pain worse?
  • Do you have any other symptoms? Even if you think your other symptoms are insignificant or unrelated to your menstrual cramps, be sure to tell your doctor about them.

You'll Receive a Physical Examination

The doctor will do a pelvic exam, including a Pap smear, if needed. The focus of your examination will be on your lower abdominal area and pelvic region. If you are sexually active, your doctor may take some cultures for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary syphilis.

Your doctor also might order other diagnostic tests, including a sonogram of your pelvic region (an ultrasound) and blood tests that include a complete blood count (CBC).

This may all seem like a lot. But your answers to the questions about your medical history and current symptoms, as well as the results of your physical examination and any additional testing, will help you get an accurate diagnosis. If you’ve kept a menstrual cycle journal, many of your answers to these questions will be readily available to you.

Medical treatment for menstrual cramps can begin once your doctor is able to identify the cause of your painful periods.


Painful Menstrual Periods; Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003150.htm; accessed 05/21/08

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