Dysmenorrhea is a menstrual condition characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain associated with menstruation. Dysmenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary.

  • Primary dysmenorrhea is classified as recurrent, crampy, lower abdominal pain that occurs during menstruation in the absence of other medical problems. The pain usually occurs from days one to two before onset of menses to days two to three of menstruation. It is the most common gynecologic complaint in adolescent females.
  • Secondary dysmenorrhea is painful menstruation caused by a gynecologic abnormality. This is more common in adults in their fourth and fifth decades of life.

In primary dysmenorrhea, the cause is overproduction of prostaglandin – a hormone-like compound found in the body. This compound increases monthly during the menstrual cycle and causes contraction of the muscles in the uterus resulting in pain.

In some people this compound affects the gastrointestinal tract, causing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

  • Cramping in the lower abdomen
  • Pain in lower abdomen
  • Low back pain
  • Pain radiating down the legs

Other symptoms that may be present include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Fainting
  • Headaches

Treatment is based on many factors and is best if determined with your healthcare provider. There are non-pharmacological treatments that perform well in the control of dysmenorrhea.

  • Heat – via a heating pad or bathing
  • Abdominal massage
  • Regular exercise

Pharmacologic treatments that can achieve pain relief include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Tylenol
  • Oral contraceptive pills
  • Long-acting hormonal contraceptives

Dysmenorrhea is a very common gynecological condition. A good treatment plan can help achieve optimal pain relief during monthly menstrual cycles. Coordination with a healthcare provider can help determine if other problems exist and to find the most effective treatment options available.

Last Updated 03/2016