WEDNESDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Menstrual cramps are
often dismissed as a mere nuisance, but new research suggests the
monthly misery may be altering women's brains.
Researchers in Taiwan used a type of brain scan known as
optimized voxel-based morphometry to analyze the anatomy of the
brains of 32 young women who reported experiencing moderate to
severe menstrual cramps on a regular basis for several years, and
32 young women who did not experience much menstrual pain.
Even when they weren't experiencing pain, women who had reported
having bad cramps had abnormalities in their gray matter (a type of
brain tissue), said study author Dr. Jen-Chuen Hsieh, a professor
of neuroscience at the Institute of Brain Science at National
Yang-Ming University in Taipei, Taiwan.
Those differences included abnormal decreases in volume in
regions of the brain believed to be involved in pain processing,
higher-level sensory processing and emotional regulation, as well
as increases in regions involved in pain modulation and regulation
of endocrine function.
Exactly how the changes in the brain could affect women's
experience of pain is unknown, researchers said. But the brain
abnormalities suggest that menstrual pain may have similarities
with other chronic pain conditions in that over time, repeated
bouts of excruciating aches make the brain unusually sensitive to
pain -- in effect, making the experience of pain worse.
"A long-term bombardment by peripheral pain can elicit plastic changes in the central brain as a reactive adaptation," Hsieh explained. "It can also be a crucial mechanism that perpetuates the 'chronification' of pain" -- that is, a mechanism that can turn pain into a lingering affliction.
The study is published in the September issue of
Menstrual cramps, or pain in the lower abdomen that occurs when
the uterus contracts during menstruation, is the most common
gynecological disorder in women of childbearing age, according to
background information in the article.
Karen J. Berkley, a professor emeritus of neuroscience and
psychology at Florida State University, said menstrual pain is too
often not taken seriously.
"This is one of the first groups to call attention to menstrual cramps, the fact that the condition can have an impact on women's lives, and it's accompanied by changes in brain anatomy and function," Berkley said.
Previously, the Taiwanese team reported that women suffering
from menstrual cramps also have differences in brain activity as
seen by positron emission tomography, another type of brain
"Taken together, those two studies point to the fact that this continual cyclical pain in women is not unimportant," Berkley said. "
Center for Young Women's Health has more on
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.