Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Menstrual cramps are pains in the belly and pelvic areas that are experienced by a woman as a result of her
menstrual period. Menstrual cramps are not the same as the discomfort felt during
premenstrual syndrome (PMS), although the symptoms of both disorders can sometimes be experienced as a continual process. Many women suffer from both PMS and menstrual cramps.
Menstrual cramps can range from mild to quite severe. Mild menstrual cramps may be barely noticeable and of short duration sometimes felt just as a sense of light heaviness in the belly. Severe menstrual cramps can be so painful that they interfere with a woman's regular activities for several days.
Menstrual cramps of some degree affect more than an estimated 50% of women, and among these, up to 15% would describe their menstrual cramps as severe. Surveys of
adolescent girls show that over 90% of girls report having menstrual cramps.
What is dysmenorrhea?
The medical term for menstrual cramps is dysmenorrhea. There are two types of dysmenorrhea, primary and secondary.
In primary dysmenorrhea, there is no underlying gynecologic problem causing the pain. This type of cramping may begin within six months to a year following menarche (the beginning of menstruation), the time when a girl starts having menstrual periods. Menstrual cramps typically do not begin until ovulatory menstrual cycles (when an egg is released from the ovaries) occur, and actual menstrual bleeding usually begins before the onset of ovulation. Therefore, an
adolescent girl may not experience dysmenorrhea until months to years following the onset of menstruation.
In secondary dysmenorrhea, some underlying abnormal condition
(usually involving a woman's reproductive system) contributes to
the menstrual pain. Secondary dysmenorrhea may be evident at
menarche but, more often, the condition develops later.
Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR on 7/26/2011