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A Doctor Answers a Reader's Question about Menstrual Cramps and Running

DrSugar Answers: Running and Menstrual Cramps?

DrSugar is in the house and answering your questions.

Dear DrSugar,
I have been a regular runner for a few years now, logging in 15 to 20 miles per week. However, in the past few months an unpleasant thing has been happening: a day or two before my period when I'm about a mile into my run I vomit. The run starts out fine, but as I near the end of that first mile I start cramping up (I normally don't get much cramping at all) so I drop to a walk. The cramping worsens and I get a little light-headed, causing me to find a spot to squat/sit and eventually throw up. I rest a little until the cramps and light-headedness lessen and then immediately head home. Is it simply the pain that does this? On the rare occasion that I have cramping when I'm not running it doesn't make me nauseous and nausea doesn't strike any other time when I run. I thought exercising was supposed to lessen cramps?
Curiously Cramping

Curious to see what the doctor has to say on this subject, then


Menstrual cramps are caused primarily by your body’s release of a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin. This chemical is thought to cause painful menstrual cramps because it can cause painful uterine contractions. However, it can also cause a number of other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sweating. Prostaglandins are usually most active just before or during the first few days of menstruation.

Your symptoms are very consistent with menstrual cramps (called primary dysmenorrhea in the medical world) related to prostaglandin release. I say this because of the timing, i.e. right before the onset of menstruation, and the nature of the symptoms: cramping, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. It is true that regular exercise can help reduce menstrual cramps. However, in your case it sounds like exercising on the day or two before the onset of menstruation is making things worse. The most likely explanation is that your body is reacting more strongly to the prostaglandin release while you are exercising vigorously. This would fit with the observation that you don’t usually have severe symptoms on those days if you don’t exercise.

Regular exercise is thought to lessen the effect of painful menstrual cramps by the body’s release of endorphins, which naturally reduce pain. In your situation, it might be best to avoid strenuous exercise such as jogging on the days when the symptoms are most likely to occur. More tolerable activities could include swimming, short hikes, light weight lifting, yoga, etc. Good luck and remember that if the problem worsens, you can always talk to your doctor about potential medical treatments, such as anti-inflammatory medications, oral contraceptives, and stress reduction.

If you have a question for DrSugar, send me a private message here and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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