Cramps come in all shapes and sizes and can be caused by a variety of things. One of the most common cramps is a muscle cramp, which can occur after exertion and can affect the legs, arms or other parts of the body. Many women are all-too-familiar with menstrual cramps, which appear every month right before or during the first few days of their period. And then there are abdominal cramps, which are often related to digestion problems.
In most cases, cramps are a short-term problem that can be remedied with simple self-care strategies. Still, cramps can also be a warning sign of a serious underlying health problem in certain situations. That’s why it’s always a good idea to be mindful of your symptoms and notify your doctor of anything that you find concerning.
Causes of Cramps
The average muscle cramp is usually due to some combination of muscle overexertion, electrolyte depletion and dehydration. Most menstrual cramps are a byproduct of the monthly menstrual cycle. Abdominal cramping can stem from gas related to something you ate or drank.
Though most cramps are harmless long-term, all types of cramps also can present warning signs that something more serious is going on. If menstrual cramps don’t respond to typical pain relievers, if unusual bleeding or discharge is present or if they occur at a time other than near the menstrual period or they develop later in life, they might be related to another disease. Muscle cramps are concerning if they are severe, don’t respond to treatment or have no discernible cause. Abdominal cramps that are severe and related to symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, bloody stools or other problems could be caused by a number of diseases.
Cramping and tightness in the middle of the chest demand immediate medical attention. This is one of the warning signs of a heart attack.
SOURCES: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; American Academy of Family Physicians; American Heart Association