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Abdominal cramps are a symptom that can occur with various diseases. Many people equate abdominal pain with female suffering, but men can also experience pain and cramps in the lower abdomen. Nevertheless, women are particularly often affected during their period.
This is how abdominal cramps are expressed
Spasm is the involuntary and, above all, painful contraction of one or more muscles. Basically, a distinction can be made between chronic and acute pain in abdominal cramps. An acute spasm develops suddenly and often without warning. Slight pain or a pull can also indicate an impending cramp. Doctors speak of chronic abdominal discomfort when the symptoms persist for at least half a year. However, this does not mean that the abdomen cramps permanently. Pain-free intervals can occur again and again between the painful periods.
How the cramp is felt depends on the respective state of health and, of course, on the individual sensation of pain. An abdominal cramp can shoot in or slowly increase in intensity. Some cramps are mild. Others almost take consciousness away from those affected. In principle, such very painful abdominal cramps are always alarm signals and must be clarified by a doctor.
Chronic cramps in the lower abdomen can be particularly stressful and restrict them in their everyday life. Many patients then hardly dare to leave the house afraid that a cramp may occur again on the way. Depending on the intensity of the cramp, a kind of muscle soreness can remain with both the chronic and the acute spasms.
Abdominal cramp is not the same as abdominal cramp. The location of the pain can differ significantly in some cases. Some patients feel the cramps especially on the left side. Other patients complain of pain in the right lower abdomen. The entire lower abdomen can also be affected. Depending on the cause, the location can also change.
Causes of abdominal cramps
The cramping of the muscles in the lower abdomen can have very different causes. In many women, the cramps occur especially during the menstrual period. However, more serious illnesses can be hidden behind the symptom.
Abdominal cramps during the menstrual period
In the first half of the cycle, the endometrium builds up so that a fertilized egg cell can nest. However, if fertilization fails to occur, the build-up of the mucous membrane will reject in the second half of the cycle due to the drop in progesterone levels. At the same time, prostaglandins are increasingly formed in the lining of the womb. These should support the rejection. Prostaglandins are local hormones that can also promote the development of pain and inflammation. If too many prostaglandins are released during menstruation, cramp-like abdominal pain can develop. Accompanying symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea or headache are also caused by prostaglandins.
Endometriosis as the cause of abdominal pain
Particularly severe abdominal cramps during menstruation can indicate endometriosis. In endometriosis, tissue of the endometrium, the so-called endometrium, is found outside the uterine cavity. Above all, neighboring organs such as the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, but also the deeper wall layers of the uterus itself are affected. Endometriosis also occurs in the lower abdominal and pelvic areas. In principle, the endometrium can grow anywhere in the body.
Just like the lining of the womb, the focus of the endometriosis changes during the cycle. As a result, the foci of the mucous membrane outside the uterus bleed during menstruation. This is often associated with cramp-like pain at the time of the menstrual period. This pain is sometimes so severe that the affected women are unable to work during this time and have to take strong painkillers. Many women also suffer from chronic abdominal and abdominal pain. It is estimated that between 5 and 15 percent of all women are affected by endometriosis. It is also one of the most important reasons for an unfulfilled desire to have children. Nevertheless, it often takes several years from the appearance of the first cramps to the diagnosis.
Cramps caused by cysts
A cyst is a cavity filled with fluid. Cysts appear quite often in the menstrual cycle. These so-called functional cysts usually recede after the fertility phase. Cystomas or cysts as a result of endometriosis contain menstrual blood that cannot drain. They can grow to a remarkable size of up to 15 centimeters without treatment. Cysts that do not regress can also be a sign of a tumor in the ovary.
Smaller cysts usually don't cause discomfort. Painful menstrual periods with cramps as well as pain during bowel movements or cycle disorders only occur when the cyst is already larger. Acute and violent cramps are an alarm sign and indicate a cyst rupture. If a cyst bursts, blood vessels can be injured, causing life-threatening bleeding.
Abdominal pain in an ectopic pregnancy
Usually, after fertilization, the egg cell migrates into the uterus and nests in the mucous membrane. In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, however, the egg cell remains in the oviduct. The growing embryo is increasingly demanding space, which the fallopian tube does not offer. The main symptom of ectopic pregnancy is severe pain in the lower abdomen. There is a risk that the fallopian tube will burst. In this case, severe cramps and bleeding occur.
Inflammation of the ovaries, fallopian tubes or uterine lining
Inflammation of the fallopian tubes (salpingitis) and inflammation of the ovaries (adnexitis) are mostly caused by germs that rise from the vagina through the uterus. Typical pathogens are chlamydia, mycobacteria and gonococci. In addition to cramp-like pain in the lower abdomen, discharge and spotting are also symptoms. The same symptoms can also indicate endometritis, i.e. inflammation of the endometrium.
Abdominal discomfort caused by tumors
Many women have fibroids, often without knowing it. Depending on the size, these benign tumors of the uterus can cause abdominal cramps, bleeding disorders or indigestion. Malignant tumors of the uterus or ovaries can also cause complaints of the lower abdomen. However, these cancers are often very advanced until the first symptoms appear.
Abdominal cramps in men
Not only the sexual organs of the woman, but also those of the man can cause cramp-like pain. In particular, acute inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) causes pain. The same applies to epididymitis, which is called epididymitis in medical terminology. Here the scrotum has a painful swelling. The cramps can also spread to the groin and lower abdomen. Another cause of cramp-like pain is prostate cancer. This type of cancer only becomes noticeable late, for example, through symptoms of urination and ejaculation.
Abdominal cramps starting from the digestive tract
In both men and women, cramps in the lower abdomen can originate from the digestive organs. Constipation (constipation) is a common cause of abdominal pain. Abdominal cramps also occur in appendicitis. Typically, these are particularly evident in the right abdomen and are accompanied by fever, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
Another cause of convulsions is diverticulitis. Diverticula are bulges of the mucous membrane in the colon that normally do not cause any discomfort. However, if these protuberances ignite, they become noticeable through pain. Since the diverticula mostly form on the descending branch of the large intestine, the pain is particularly evident in the lower left half of the abdomen. Other symptoms of diverticulitis include diarrhea, fever and constipation.
Cramp-like pelvic complaints are also typical for inflammatory bowel diseases, also called IBD for short. These include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The main symptoms are abdominal cramps and frequent diarrhea.
A cause of abdominal cramps that needs immediate medical attention is bowel obstruction. Such an ileus can be caused, for example, by feces or foreign bodies in the intestine. The intestine tries to transport the faeces past the obstacle through increased movement. This leads to severe pain. The clinical picture of the intestinal obstruction is life-threatening and therefore requires rapid therapy.
With rectal cancer, abdominal cramps are one of the late symptoms. Changes in bowel movements and blood in the stool are also warnings.
Pain from urinary tract infections
Dull or cramp-like abdominal pain also occurs with infections of the urinary tract, bladder and kidney. Painful urination and blood in the urine substantiate the suspicion that it could be an (ascending) urinary tract infection.
Acute onset, wave-like and cramp-like abdominal pain can also be caused by urinary stones that have formed in the bladder, in the ureter or in the kidneys. You can injure the urinary tract mucosa or block the urinary tract so that the urine can no longer drain. Severe pain occurs especially when a stone comes off. One speaks here also of a ureter or kidney colic.
Blood in the urine, urination problems, and cramping abdominal pain may also indicate a bladder tumor. However, these complaints only appear at an advanced stage.
Conventional treatment of abdominal cramps
Of course, the treatment mainly depends on the cause. Dysmenorrhea, i.e. painful menstruation, is usually treated symptomatically with painkillers. Many gynecologists also recommend hormonal contraceptives. Birth control pills and the like prevent ovulation and thus menstruation. The bleeding during the break is not a regular bleeding, but only a withdrawal bleed.
Endometriosis is also treated with oral contraceptives. Since the cause is still unknown, treatment of the underlying disease is not possible. In many women, the symptoms improve at least temporarily after the endometrial focus has been surgically removed. Surgery may also be necessary for larger cysts. On the one hand, the pain can be treated in this way, and on the other hand there is a risk of rupture or stem rotation in the case of larger cysts.
If large fibroids cause abdominal cramps, surgery may also be indicated here. If possible, malignant tumors of the ovary or uterus are also surgically removed. If the histological findings of the removed tissue are available after the operation, the patients also receive chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is only required for tumors that were recognized at a very early stage.
If bacterial inflammation of the uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries is the cause of the cramps, antibiotics are prescribed. General therapeutic measures also include sexual abstinence, regular emptying of the bladder and bowel, and warm, warm compresses on the abdomen.
Bacterial prostatitis in men and urinary tract infections caused by bacteria are also treated with antibiotic drugs. In the case of urinary tract infections, rinsing therapy with diuretic tea preparations is also useful in order to remove the pathogens from the urinary tract as quickly as possible.
Abdominal cramps caused by constipation can be treated with laxatives. These include paraffin or glycerin in the form of suppositories or medicinal substances such as bitter and Glauber's salt that are taken. Lactulose and macrogol bind water, soften the stool and can thus facilitate excretion.
If the pain is caused by inflammation of the appendix, there is an urgent need for action. When the inflamed worm process bursts, the contents of the intestine, along with the bacteria it contains, pours into the abdomen. There is a risk of life-threatening peritonitis. It is possible to wait with bed rest, absolute lack of nutrition and antibiosis, as well as close laboratory checks, but most patients with appendicitis are surgically removed from the appendicitis.
Naturopathic treatment of cramp-like complaints in the lower abdomen
Naturopathy also offers many treatment options for abdominal cramps, but these cannot replace a visit to the doctor to clarify the causes and should only be used after consultation with a doctor. These include, for example, tea preparations, wraps, envelopes and food supplements.
Treat naturopathic dysmenorrhea
Many women find warmth in pain during the menstrual period extremely pleasant and pain relieving. If you don't want to rely on the hot water bottle alone, you can also use warm abdominal wraps. Potato, wheat grain or hay flower wraps, for example, are suitable for relieving cramps during menstruation. Likewise, a relaxation bath with yarrow, gooseberry or lady's mantle can prevent the cramping menstrual pain three to four days before the start of menstruation.
Studies also show that vitamin B6 can prevent premenstrual syndrome and abdominal pain during menstrual periods. Before menstruation, it is advisable to eat poultry, beef, legumes and green leafy vegetables or take a vitamin B6 dietary supplement.
These measures can also help relieve pain associated with endometriosis. Women suffering from endometriosis should also pay more attention to their intestines. Recent studies speak for an autoimmune component in the development of the disease. The intestine as an important part of the immune system should therefore be included in the treatment. A naturopathic treatment alternative is an intestinal rehabilitation with probiotics to regenerate the intestinal flora and counter inflammatory processes.
Treat urinary tract infections naturally
If the abdominal cramps are caused by a urinary tract infection, a tea cure with draining medicinal plants can be helpful. These herbal diuretics include:
- Birch leaves,
- and juniper.
Bowel rehabilitation for abdominal cramps
Intestinal cleansing can be useful not only for endometriosis, but also for indigestion that is associated with cramps. The digestive tract is populated by billions of bacteria. This so-called intestinal flora takes on many important tasks. If there is an imbalance between the "good" and "bad" bacteria in the intestine, there is dysbiosis. Probiotics are used to bring the microbiome of the intestine back into balance. Prebiotics that serve as food for the intestinal bacteria can also be used.
Relaxing medicinal plants
Relaxing medicinal plants, so-called herbal spasmolytics, can be used for the symptomatic treatment of abdominal cramps. The most well-known are:
- Caraway seed,
- Lemon balm,
- and butterbur.
To relieve the cramps, these medicinal plants can be drunk as tea. It is also possible to take plant preparations such as tinctures or elixirs. Yarrow and Co. are also suitable for warm, moist wraps or relaxing baths.
Magnesium for cramps
Magnesium not only helps preventively, but can also be taken for acute cramps. Magnesium deficiency often manifests itself in painful muscle contractions. The mineral can simply be added as a dietary supplement in the form of powder or tablets. In the case of abdominal cramps, magnesium oil can also be applied directly to the stomach. Foods with a high magnesium content are also recommended. In addition to nuts, this also includes legumes or wheat germ.
Relieve abdominal cramps with essential oils
Depending on the cause, essential oils can help to relieve the cramp-like pain. Typical antispasmodic oils are lavender, lemon balm, ylang-ylang, chamomile, bergamot and marjoram. With these oils and a fatty oil such as olive oil or almond oil, you can easily create an antispasmodic oil mixture. A concentration of one to three percent is recommended. A 1% dilution corresponds to 20 drops of essential oil per 100 milliliters of base oil. This oil mixture can be applied to the abdomen if necessary or preventively. (fp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
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