What Does It Mean If I Have Cramps but No Period?
Period cramps are one of the awful side effects of menstruating, but cramping without getting a period is somehow more frustrating. Cramps can come from a variety of causes and can be bad enough to impact you for days on end because of the pain.
If this pain is something you deal with frequently, you might be used to it and already have an idea of why those pangs are radiating through your body. However, for some people, cramping without getting a period can be a new (and terrible) experience that's a bit of a mystery. If you've ever found yourself wondering why you feel like you have your period but there's no blood, you're not alone. We spoke with an ob-gyn to get some answers about why you're getting period cramps but no period and how to address the pain.
Why Do I Have Period Cramps but No Period?
Cramping without having a period can come from a number of things, some more concerning than others. "Some causes may be natural or normal," Alessandra M. Taylor, MD, an ob-gyn based in Austin, TX, tells POPSUGAR. "Other causes may be more serious and should be discussed with a doctor." Below are some of the most common reasons.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, as it's more widely known, is essentially a cluster of symptoms that can happen ahead of menstruation. This includes abdominal cramping, among other symptoms, which can last anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks before your menstrual cycle, Wendy Goodall McDonald, MD, previously told POPSUGAR. If you're cramping but don't have your period yet, it could be a sign that it's coming.
Ovulation is the "phase in the menstrual cycle where your ovary releases an egg," per the Cleveland Clinic. This usually happens on day 14 of a 28-day cycle and can sometimes be accompanied by ovulation pain (also known as mittelschmerz) that can feel like dull cramps or a sharp pain, Marco Mouanness, MD, an ob-gyn and fertility expert at the Rejuvenating Fertility Center previously told POPSUGAR. Some patients might even experience ovulation pain that feels similar to menstrual cramps. The Mayo Clinic also notes that this discomfort is typically experienced on one side of the lower abdomen.
Birth control can, in fact, cause cramping, especially if you're starting a new brand or method. Dr. Taylor notes that new birth control methods can lead to mild cramping, but it shouldn't last long and will change as your body adjusts to the new contraception. This can be the case with the pill, an IUD, or other birth control methods. If you start a new birth control method and cramps persist, let your doctor know and consider changing birth control methods under their guidance.
Your period-like cramps might actually be a sign of constipation. It's not uncommon to experience sharp gas pains when you're backed up, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. You may also find that you feel bloated and overly full. Fortunately, most instances of constipation can be addressed with lifestyle changes, like increasing fiber consumption, and if it still persists, a doctor may prescribe laxatives.
If you have abdominal pain that lasts more than three months, irritable bowel syndrome might be the cause. "It's the most common GI condition gastroenterologists see and one of the most common seen by primary-care doctors," Shanti Eswaran, MD, a gastroenterologist at the University of Michigan Health System, previously told POPSUGAR. Oftentimes IBS is also accompanied by symptoms of gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
Endometriosis is a condition that impacts up to 10 percent of people with uteruses who are of reproductive age, according to the World Health Organization. Cramps related to endometriosis are usually incredibly painful and should not be ignored. If you find that you're having cramps around the time of your period or during your period that are prohibiting you from doing regular activities like going to work or exercising, then "it's not 'normal' period pain," Hugh Taylor, MD, professor and chair of obstetrics at Yale University School of Medicine, previously told POPSUGAR. You should always see a healthcare provider when cramps are seriously painful, Dr. Taylor explains.
If you're experiencing period pains but no period, the first thing you may be wondering is, "Am I pregnant?" And the answer is maybe. Non-period-related cramping is associated with an early sign of pregnancy known as implantation bleeding, or light spotting that occurs when a fertilized egg "plants" or attaches itself to the uterine lining, per the Mayo Clinic.
An ovarian cyst is essentially a growth that has developed on or inside your ovaries. "Women with ovarian cysts can have no symptoms, pain resembling a light pressure, or heaviness on one side or both sides of their lower abdomen, whichever side(s) the cysts are on," Sophia Yen, an MD, MPH, and CEO of Pandiahealth.com, a subscription birth-control delivery company, previously told POPSUGAR. "Because the ovaries are located in the lower abs, this means you will most likely feel pain below your belly button and pelvis." If your cramps feel like this, it could be a sign that you're experiencing ovarian cysts and may need to see a doctor to determine your next course of treatment.
Appendicitis, a type of inflammation of the appendix, can be marked by a host of symptoms, but one of the most common ones is a sudden pain that begins on the right side of the lower abdomen, per the Mayo Clinic. If your period-like cramps feel like this or are accompanied by the following symptoms listed by the Mayo Clinic, it's probably time to see a doctor:
- Pain that worsens if you cough, walk, or make other jarring movements
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Abdominal bloating
Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a type of bacterial infection that is usually marked by the nonstop urge to pee. But UTIs also cause pain or burning when urinating, smelly or cloudy urine, and pressure in the lower abdomen, which you may be experiencing as period-like cramps. Fortunately, most UTIs can be treated quickly, and sometimes even without the use of antibiotics. That being said, if you think your cramps are a symptom of a UTI, make sure to monitor how long it lasts and what other symptoms are accompanying your cramps. Fever, pain in the upper back or neck, or blood in the urine could be a sign that the infection has impacted your kidneys.
Stress is a powerful emotion that can manifest in the body in a number of ways. According to UChicago Medicine, stress and anxiety can actually be the cause of stomach pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms — which you may be experiencing as cramps.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that results in high amounts of androgen (a sex hormone), which can cause acne, excess facial- and body-hair growth, and weight gain in addition to irregular periods, Paula Amato, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR, previously told POPSUGAR. PCOS can also result in anovulation, or when the body goes through all the symptoms of ovulation without releasing an egg, per the Cleveland Clinic. This means that you won't get your period, but the body can still experience those unwelcome cramps.
Fibroids are another type of growth that tends to occur in the uterus. Symptoms of uterine fibroids can range from nothing at all to severe side effects like heavy menstrual bleeding or an unpredictable cycle, pelvic pressure, a bloated abdomen, weak bladder control or frequent urination, constipation, pain during sex, and moderate to severe menstrual cramping. "Unlike normal period cramps, the cramps caused by fibroids can be severe, worsen over time, and occur even when you don't have your period," according to the USA Fibroid Centers.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
If you've dealt with painful period cramps before, then you may be desensitized to cramps in general. But pain in your lower abdomen is nothing to brush off, and can actually be a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The condition is most commonly caused by sexually transmitted infections and symptoms can range from mild and unnoticeable to severe including, "pelvic and lower abdominal pain, unexplained fevers, abnormal bleeding, bleeding with sex, pain with sex, chills, pain with urination, a persistent foul-smelling vaginal discharge, and vomiting," Sherry Ross, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and co-founder of URJA Intimates previously told POPSUGAR. If left untreated, PID can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes and damage to the ovaries, in addition to infertility, abscesses, and ectopic pregnancies — which is why it's so important to flag PID symptoms to your healthcare provider and prioritize STI testing.
Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection of the vagina that results from a pH imbalance. This imbalance can cause a series of uncomfortable symptoms, from abnormal discharge to menstrual-like cramps.
Yeast infections are commonly marked by thick, white discharge and intense itching. But they can also result in pain in your pelvis or lower abdominal area.
Your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland responsible for producing the thyroid hormone, is an important part of your body's metabolism — from regulating how fast you burn calories to how fast your heart beats, according to the Office on Women's Health. When your thyroid is thrown off (think: due to a condition like Hashimoto's), your menstrual cycle can get a little wonky, causing missed periods despite having period-like symptoms, including cramps.
Typically uterine polyps are associated with symptoms like vaginal bleeding after menopause, bleeding between periods, frequent or unpredictable periods, and infertility, per the Mayo Clinic. But in some instances, these growths attached to the uterus can also cause period-like cramping even when you're not on your period, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which describes them as a "dull aching in your abdomen or lower back."
Interstitial Cystitis is a type of bladder syndrome that is often associated with urinary tract symptoms like having to pee urgently and frequently. It's also not uncommon for people with interstitial cystitis to experience "discomfort, pressure, tenderness or pain in the bladder, lower abdomen, and pelvic area," according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Miscarriage is, unfortunately, a common part of pregnancy for many people. While some are considered "missed" miscarriages, meaning they cause no bleeding, pain, or other symptoms, others can include symptoms like bleeding and pain in early pregnancy, Khaled Zeitoun, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn previously told POPSUGAR. This pain can actually resemble menstrual-like cramping which can be very confusing. A doctor can help determine the exact cause of your cramps and the best treatment plan.
At What Point Should I Be Concerned About Prolonged Cramping?
"If the cramps last for long periods of time, are extremely painful and not relieved by over-the-counter pain medicines, or if you're experiencing other symptoms such as a fever or vomiting, it is best to talk to your doctor," Dr. Taylor says. The length of time can vary based on your body, and you know yourself best. Check in with yourself and make your best judgment call on when the cramping gets to be too much. If you regularly experience cramping while not on your period — perhaps from constipation or ovulation — consider calling the doctor if it goes on longer than usual. If cramping while not on your period is extremely unusual for you, you may want to call the doctor sooner rather than later.
How Can I Alleviate Cramps at Home?
If your cramps are manageable, taking over-the-counter pain relievers like an ibuprofen should help clear them up. These pain relievers will help low-grade pain as long as it's not from a deeper concern. Using a heating pad on the area that's cramping can also help alleviate pain from cramps. If you try these pain-relief methods to no avail, it may mean your cramps are stemming from a more serious concern or condition, in which case, it's time to call the doctor.
— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones