Pelvic cramps might seem like a common occurrence for those who experience periods — and sometimes they are — but what if they’re happening while your period isn’t anywhere on the horizon? It might be something as simple as an overly gaseous day or the aftermath of an enormous intake of mac and cheese (we’ve all been there). However, abnormal pelvic cramping could also be a sign of a more serious condition.
Whether or not your stomach rumbles feel severe, it’s still important to figure out what’s going on with your surprise pelvic pain. Serious or not, figuring out what’s happening with your body is always a good step in eliminating your discomfort.
So, what’s making me cramp up?
“There are numerous conditions that could cause period cramps without getting or having an actual period,” Dr. Angela Jones, Astroglide’s resident OB/GYN told Refinery29. Jones says that whenever someone is complaining about pelvic pain and cramping, the two main suspects are typically gynecological issues or gastrointestinal issues.
So what’s the difference between gastrointestinal and gynecological? It’s simple — gastrointestinal has to do with your digestive track, and basically means your cramping is being caused by something happening in your stomach or your intestines. Gynecological, on the other hand, means that the cramping is specific to your uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, or ovaries.
You could be constipated.
From the gastrointestinal side of things, your cramps could come from something as basic as just being a little bit backed up. “Constipation can be a major cause of abdominal or lower pelvic cramping,” Dr. Jones says. So if you haven’t gone to the bathroom in a significant amount of time, that just might be your answer. Cramps and constipation in general can also be caused by dehydration, so make sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day.
But, of course, there’s also a more serious side of the gastrointestinal spectrum. “[It could also be] something more significant like irritable bowel syndrome,” Dr. Jones adds.
IBS is a common chronic disorder that affects the large intestine, and can be managed over time. Symptoms include cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. If you think your cramping could be caused by IBS and it's steadily getting worse, you should head to a doctor.
Cramps could also mean an underlying infection.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease occurs when bacteria spreads from your vagina to your uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries, usually by being sexually transmitted. The symptoms are cramping, but there are also more telltale signs such as heavy vaginal discharge, uterine bleeding, fever, pain during intercourse, and painful urination. If you're checking off all or some of these boxes, you should head to your OB/GYN to get checked out.
It might just be almost that time of the month.
While your period might not have arrived yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience pelvic cramping that’s caused by your menstrual cycle. Period cramps often start 24 to 48 hours before the actual bleeding begins, so double check where you're at in your cycle — it could just mean your time of month is on its way.
An ovarian cyst rupture can also cause cramping.
If you have an ovarian cyst that ruptures, it could cause cramping in your lower abdomen, Mayo Clinic says. An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that can sit either on or in your ovaries, and more often than not does not cause discomfort. But, if it bursts, you may have a more significant problem.
Sometimes a burst ovarian cyst can pass by undetected, but you may also feel cramping on either side of your stomach depending on which ovary the cyst was on or in.
After an ovarian cyst ruptures, some spotting may occur. If you suspect that this has happened to you, and your pain doesn't go away with over-the-counter pain relievers, head to a doctor to get your pain checked out.
You might be pregnant, or have pregnancy issues.
Dr. Jones says that having period-like cramps while not on your period can also be an early sign of pregnancy. Mild uterine cramps are common in pregnant women.
On the other hand, your cramps could possibly mean an ectopic pregnancy, according to Dr. Jones. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere in your fallopian tubes or your abdomen instead of the lining of your uterus and starts to develop. In this case, the pregnancy can't continue normally, and you'll need to see a doctor immediately for the next steps.
Endometriosis also causes abdominal cramping.
If your cramps feel far worse than your usual period ones, you might have endometriosis, an "often painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus," according to the Mayo Clinic. Along with pelvic cramping, lower back and abdominal pain are also symptoms of endometriosis. If you suspect you might have the disorder, you should plan on heading to your OB/GYN for a proper diagnoses and treatment options.
When should I seek medical help?
“The take home message is that if you are having cramping that is not relieved with good ole Motrin or Ibuprofen, or whatever your non-steroidal of choice is, you should have it evaluated by your friendly OB/GYN,” Dr. Jones says. And, she’s right — if you’re experiencing severe cramping that isn’t going away with basic remedies, then it’s time to call in professional help to see what’s up.