Are you having contractions but not pregnant?
You know contractions occur during labour, when the uterus opens the cervix and pushes the baby down.
But what is going on when you’re feeling contractions and not pregnant?
You might have all the signs of getting your period – like moodiness, tiredness and bloating – but except for cramps there’s no bleeding.
First of all, don’t panic. If you’ve done a pregnancy test (or ten) and you’re definitely not pregnant, read on. There’s a whole list of reasons why you’re having contractions but aren’t pregnant.
Can you get contractions if not pregnant?
If you have contractions and aren’t pregnant you might wonder if this is normal?
You may only associate contractions with labour and birth. But you can get contractions if you’re not pregnant.
What causes the uterus to contract when not pregnant?
Throughout your life, your uterus will contract whether you’re pregnant or not.
These contractions happen as a normal part of your reproductive cycle.
Contractions of the uterus due to orgasm may help to assist the passage of sperm toward the waiting egg, according to this study.
Cramps or contractions of the uterus are a common experience before and during your period. These contractions help to expel the uterus lining that has thickened during your menstrual cycle in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
Why do I have cramps that feel like contractions?
The uterus is basically a big muscle. When you feel a cramp, it’s actually a tightening or contraction of a muscle. These contractions can be mild and short, or strong and long lasting.
Here are 15 reasons why you might have cramps or contractions but not be pregnant.
Your body hasn’t released an egg that month but it still goes the hormone changes linked to premenstrual syndrome. This is called an anovulatory cycle. Because no egg was released, you won’t actually have your period, but you may feel cramping.
Anovulation occurs in about 20% of cycles and is random but can be related to other issues such as losing weight or perimenopause. If you have three anovulatory cycles in a row you should seek the advice of your healthcare provider.
#2. Birth control
A common side effect of hormonal birth control is missed or lighter periods. You may still experience contractions of the uterus as premenstrual hormone changes occur and your uterus expels any lining.
#3. Thyroid conditions
Your thyroid regulates many of your body’s functions including your menstrual cycle. If your thyroid function is disrupted this can make your cycles irregular. You might have long stretches of time without a period but still have uterine contractions while not pregnant.
#4. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition caused by an excess of androgens, chemicals that affect your ovary function. PCOS can cause frequently skipped periods, anovulatory cycles, ovarian cysts and irregular spotting. Any of these issues can cause you to feel cramping and contractions without being pregnant.
#5. Ovarian cysts
Each month your ovaries make one or several cysts to prepare for ovulation. These are called follicles. Sometimes the follicle doesn’t open and the fluid becomes a follicular cyst. You might also have cysts related to PCOS.
Most ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms but can trigger period-like cramping even though you don’t have your period. Ovarian cysts can grow quite large and cause the ovary to twist (torsion), which is quite painful and needs surgery.
Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when tissue normally growing inside your uterus ends up outside of it. Generally it will grow in the pelvic area and cause very severe cramping. These contractions can happen weeks before your period and also for days after. You may have very few pain-free days through your cycle.
Find out more about endometriosis and how to treat it.
Adenomyosis is a common gynaecological condition, very similar to endometriosis. However adenomyosis is only found within the uterus, and not anywhere else in the body. The symptoms are more likely to involve heavy bleeding (some women experience flooding) and blood clots. Some women with adenomyosis also experience cramps so intense, they describe them as being like labor contractions.
Find out more about adenomyosis.
#8. Ovarian pain (Mittelschmerz)
Abdominal contractions but not pregnant because it’s the middle of your menstrual cycle? You might be one of the 20% of women who experience ovulation pain. Called mittelscherz (German for ‘middle pain’) this pain happens when you ovulate.
Mittelschmerz is generally considered normal and doesn’t indicate there’s anything wrong. That being said, painful ovulation is not normal. If the pain is enough to need painkillers or if it interferes with your day, be sure to read our article about the most common causes of ovulation pain. If you have severe pain, especially with signs of infection, seek medical as soon as possible. Get a referral to see a specialist, not a general doctor who doesn’t have enough training to find or treat the underlying cause.
#9. Over exercising
Exercise is a great way to help you deal with any symptoms of PMS. But working out too hard or too frequently can mess up your cycle, and even cause you to miss your period.
Over exercising can cause physical stress to your body, especially if you drop a lot of weight. When you skip a period due to physical stress, it causes abnormal changes to your hormones. This can cause you to have cramping with no period.
#10. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Infection of the reproductive system, such as uterus, ovaries or fallopian tubes, is called pelvic inflammatory disease. These infections are usually caused by sexually transmitted diseases.
If you’re feeling contractions but aren’t pregnant, it’s worth checking with your healthcare provider for a possible PID, especially between new sexual partners.
#11. Ovarian cancer
While ovarian cancer is rare, affecting about 22,000 women each year in the US, it’s one of the most deadly cancers for women due to its silent or subtle symptoms. Experiencing bloating and abdominal contractions but not being pregnant can be possible signs of ovarian cancer, along with weight loss and urinary problems. Always seek medical advice if you have concerns.
#12. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Stomach contractions when not pregnant is a common complaint for women who have irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is usually diagnosed when you have recurring abdominal pain and changes to your bowel habits over several months, such as constipation or diarrhea.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used for different autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These cause chronic inflammation of your digestive tract and cramping and pain.
#13. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Urinary tract infections are often caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. Often UTIs cause pain and burning when you wee, frequency and urgency of urination, and sometimes cloudy or smelly urine.
Another common sign of a UTI is cramping in the pelvic area. Both UTIs and thrush have similar treatments. Find out more in our article about thrush and UTIs.
#14. Indigestion or intolerances
If you’re sensitive or intolerant to certain foods, you may experience bloating and cramping not dissimilar to those you get when your period is due.
It can help to keep a diary of foods you eat for a few weeks to see if you can spot a pattern between certain foods and cramping. Always talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect a food intolerance or sensitivity.
#15. Interstitial cystitis
This is a bladder syndrome that causes cramping or abdominal contractions when not pregnant. It’s not known what causes interstitial cystitis but seems to be related to infection, allergy or an autoimmune reaction.