What is primary dysmenorrhea?

Primary dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain, affects almost all women. Learn more about it.

What does primary dysmenorrhea consist of?

The term dysmenorrhea refers to a difficulty or disruption related to menstrual flow. The terms menstrual pain or menstrual cramps are often used to describe dysmenorrhea and there are two distinct types: primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea refers to recurring pain in the form of cramps that occur during menstruation and that do not involve an underlying health problem. Secondary dysmenorrhea is defined as menstrual pain related to an identifiable health problem, such as endometriosis.

Dysmenorrhea is among the most common gynecological issues that prompt women to see a doctor. In some age groups, up to 90% of women complain of dysmenorrhea. In some cases, symptoms can be serious and hamper normal functioning.

Primary dysmenorrhea usually begins at adolescence, at the onset of ovulatory cycles. The cause of primary dysmenorrhea is not entirely known, but most symptoms can be explained by the molecular action that a woman’s body produces during ovulatory cycles, called prostaglandins. Several mechanisms are involved in the onset of pain felt during menstruation.

What are the risk factors of primary dysmenorrhea?

Primary dysmenorrhea affects many women, but not all in the same way. Certain factors that increase the chances of suffering from primary dysmenorrhea, have been identified—age being the most significant. This problem affects adolescents more than it does older women.

Some other risk factors include:

  • early onset of first menstruation
  • abundant menstrual flow
  • extended duration of menstruation, and
  • family history of primary dysmenorrhea

What are the signs and symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea?

The most typical symptom of primary dysmenorrhea is pain in the form of cramps which begin a few hours before or at the start of menstruation. Pain is mainly felt in the lower abdomen, but can also spread to the lower back, thighs, and hips. Symptoms usually last less than a day, but can persist for two to three days.

Pain can also be associated with other symptoms such as:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • dizziness

Symptoms are not necessarily the same from one menstrual cycle to the next. Furthermore, symptoms and their intensity vary from one woman to another. They can be serious and affect some women’s normal functioning or, for others, can be minor and barely be felt at all. Primary dysmenorrhea is a significant cause for absenteeism at school and at work in women.

If you think you suffer from primary dysmenorrhea, it is recommended to speak to a doctor, who will ask you questions and order tests to ensure that no other problem is at the root of your symptoms. As mentioned earlier, dysmenorrhea can be caused by an underlying problem.

For information on how to relieve menstrual pain associated with primary dysmenorrhea, read the following text: "How to relieve menstrual pain".


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What is primary dysmenorrhea?

Primary dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain, affects almost all women. Learn more on the subject.
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