Menstrual cramps that occur after a period ends or in women who have already gone through menopause can be caused by a number of medical conditions related to the reproductive organs, including endometriosis, mittelschmerz, and recent insertion of an intrauterine device. Usually, menstrual cramps present with pain in the abdomen and pelvis. This pain can also radiate down the lower back and even into the thighs. Menstrual cramps are a common side effect of menstruation and generally show up on the day a woman starts her period and can last for just a few days or until her menstrual cycle ends. In spite of this, however, even women who normally have consistent cycles may experience an atypical period on occasion, resulting in unexpected or unexplained cramps after a period.
The key to understanding the reasons for having cramps after a period is paying attention to the specific location where the pain is occurring and looking at when the cramps occur. Abdominal cramps, for instance, showing up after a period may be the result of endometriosis, a condition involving the abnormal growth of uterine tissue into areas outside of the uterus such as the ovaries. Although this tissue is not able to exit the body like typical uterine tissue, it continues to behave in a similar fashion by breaking down and bleeding during the menstrual cycle. The tissue then heals over and in time can lead to adhesions that irritate or damage nearby organs.
One of the more likely causes of cramps after a period, however, is mittelschmerz, a condition where women experience pelvic pain and cramps related to ovulation or the release of an egg from the ovaries. This pain caused by the mittelschmerz is distinctive from typical menstrual cramps by the fact that the pain occurs about two weeks from the time that the last period has ended, the time when ovulation normally begins. Symptoms of the condition can range from sharp pulsing like pain to dull achy sensations, generally occurring only on one side of the body. During some months, however, this pain may switch sides.
Cramping menstrual-like pain could also be the result of a recent intrauterine device (IUD) insertion. These small flexible plastic devices are a form of birth control inserted directly into the uterus that prevents sperm from being able to reach an egg. Once the procedure is done, some women may experience mild cramps for a few months until the uterus fully adjusts to the foreign presence.
In some cases, pain between periods is not serious, and home care can bring about relief. Common home treatments include rest, use of a heating pad, and over-the-counter pain remedies. As there are so many possible causes of cramps after a period, however, unexplained and reoccurring pain will generally require an accurate diagnosis by visiting a health care provider. The symptoms of endometriosis, for example, can include constant pelvic cramps. For many women with the condition, however, the pain is more noticeable during their periods and may occur with disabling cramps and severe bloating.
Some additional possible causes of cramps after a period has ended include ovarian cysts and fibroids. If these cramps occur with high fevers, blood in the stool, or dizziness, women will usually need to seek emergency medical attention. A pelvic exam, imaging tests, and a review of the patient’s symptoms may be needed by the doctor to figure out the cause of the pain and develop an appropriate treatment plan.