Nearly one third of pregnant women experience abdominal cramps during the early stages of their pregnancy. Cramping pains can range from mild to severe. Despite being a normal symptom associated with pregnancy, cramps can be quite frightening for women. This is often the case for those who experience a sudden burning pain in their lower abdomen that may be accompanied by spotting, nausea, or leg cramps.
What Causes Cramps?
Lower abdominal cramps may be the result of implantation, which occurs approximately 10 to 14 days after ovulation. This is when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. It can cause both pain and/or light vaginal bleeding or spotting.
Constipation is another early pregnancy symptom that may feel like cramping. It is usually associated with gas pains or bloating.
Stretching of the round uterine ligaments can also cause abdominal pain, most commonly on the right side. Ligament pain is symptomatic of normal changes that occur in your body to accommodate pregnancy. Pain is often experienced as a result of normal movements that cause the ligaments holding your uterus in suspension to contract quickly. These contractions are experienced as abdominal pain or cramping. Round ligament pain frequently occurs in the second trimester. While this is a normal pregnancy symptom, women may assume that they are experiencing round abdominal pain when there is actually an underlying condition requiring medical intervention. If the pain is particularly severe and associated with symptoms such as fever, chills, painful urination, or difficulty walking, seek emergency care.
Warning Signs of Miscarriage
A miscarriage is a spontaneous event that results in the early termination of pregnancy. It usually occurs before 20 to 22 weeks of pregnancy and the cause may remain unknown.
Sever abdominal cramps early into pregnancy may indicate miscarriage. These cramping pains are often difficult to bear and typically last from 5-20 minutes. Cramps are usually accompanied by excessive bleeding.
Beyond severe abdominal cramps, other miscarriage symptoms include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, including pieces of blood clots or placental or fetal tissue (a definite indication of miscarriage)
- Heavy bleeding may occur without cramps for some women
- Abnormal weight loss
- Brownish or pink vaginal discharge
- Decreased breast tenderness
- Decreased morning sickness
- Loss of a fetal heartbeat
- Sudden absence of fetal movement
Pregnant women who experience these signs and symptoms must immediately consult a doctor or go to the emergency department to obtain appropriate care.
An ectopic pregnancy is another possible cause of abnormal abdominal cramps in early pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg is implanted in the fallopian tube, cervix, or abdomen instead of the uterus. Signs and symptoms include unbearable cramping, pelvic pain, headache, fever, dizziness, and blood clots in the urine. Ectopic pregnancy can threaten the life of the mother, so women who experience these symptoms should be taken to the hospital immediately.
To relieve normal, mild cramps, pregnant women should rest on their side until the cramping ceases. Placing a warm water bottle on the abdomen may also relieve pain. A massage may also be helpful.
If your abdominal pain is accompanied by additional symptoms including urinary problems, fever, and chills, then you may have a urinary tract infection. You will need to go to a doctor for proper treatment.
To relieve cramps associated with constipation, increase fluid intake and consume a fiber-rich diet of fruits and vegetables.
If cramps are more severe and accompanied by heavy bleeding, call your doctor immediately. Proper diagnosis and treatment are necessary to avoid complications.