According to the study published in Pain, women experiencing moderate to severe menstrual cramps on a regular basis for several years have an abnormal reduction in the volume of the grey matter of the brain involved in pain transmission and mood regulation.
Such experiences are also associated with increases in the volume of regions responsible for pain sensation and the regulation of endocrine function, the study found.
“A long-term bombardment by peripheral pain can elicit plastic changes in the central brain as a reactive adaptation,” said lead researcher Jen-Chuen Hsieh, stressing that abnormalities in the grey matter of the brain were also seen in the absence of any pain.
Scientists concluded that cyclic occurring menstrual pain can alter the brain in the same way other sustained chronic pain conditions do in the long run, contributing to long-lasting central changes.
“If these brain changes are related to the pain, and we can find a receptor, it would make sense to target it and minimize the menstrual pain, but if it is hormone-related then those changes may be unrelated to the pain,” said Edna Ma, an anesthesiologist at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
Further studies, therefore, are needed to determine the mechanism through which cramps may affect the brain in women.