Menstrual Cramps Change the Brain, Study Says

ABC News

Cyclic Pain May Contribute to Structural Changes in the Brain, Researchers Say

By NANCY WALSH, MedPage Today Contributing Writer

Aug. 11, 2010

Women who experience cramps in the lower abdomen just before or during menstruation also appear more likely to have abnormal structural changes in the areas of the brain involved in pain and emotion — and these abnormalities persist even when the women are not experiencing cyclic menstrual pain, according to a study conducted in Taiwan.

When MRI scans were performed during the pain-free peri-ovulatory period of the menstrual cycle, changes were observed in regions of the brain involved in pain transmission and higher sensory processing, as well as in regions involved in endocrine function and pain modulation, explained Dr. Cheng-Hao Tu of the National Yang-Ming University in Taipei and colleagues.

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Studies of patients with chronic pain have shown that extended pain messages delivered to the central nervous system can lead to structural and functional alterations throughout the nervous system, the researchers wrote online in Pain.

But such changes had not been elucidated for cyclic pain, such as is seen in menstrual cramping, so Tu and colleagues enrolled 32 women with severe menstrual pain and 32 control subjects who did not experience this disorder.

No significant differences were seen on MRI for total volume of the tisuses in the brain known as gray matter between patients and controls, but numerous regional differences in gray matter were detected.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.