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Painful menstrual periods

Definition

Painful menstrual periods are periods in which a woman has crampy lower abdominal pain, which can be sharp or aching and come and go. Back pain may also be present.

Some pain during your period is normal, but a large amount of pain is not. The medical term for painful menstrual periods is dysmenorrhea.

Alternative Names

Menstruation - painful; Dysmenorrhea; Periods - painful; Cramps - menstrual; Menstrual cramps

Considerations

Many women have painful periods. Sometimes, the pain makes it hard to do normal household, job, or school-related activities for a few days during each menstrual cycle. Painful menstruation is the leading cause of lost time from school and work among women in their teens and 20s.

Causes

Painful menstrual periods fall into two groups, depending on the cause:

Primary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that occurs around the time that menstrual periods first begin in otherwise healthy young women. In most cases, this pain is not related to a specific problem with the uterus or other pelvic organs. Increased activity of the hormone prostaglandin, which is produced in the uterus, is thought to play a role in this condition.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that develops later in women who have had normal periods. It is often related to problems in the uterus or other pelvic organs, such as:

Home Care

The following steps may help you to avoid prescription medicines:

If these self-care measures do not work, your health care provider may offer you treatment such as:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider right away if you have:

Also call if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms.

Tests and procedures that may be done include:

Treatment depends on what is causing your pain.

References

Alvero R. Dysmenorrhea. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2017. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:395-395.

Lentz GM. Primary and secondary dysmenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder: etiology, diagnosis, management. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 36.

Pattanittum P, Kunyanone N, Brown J, et al. Dietary supplements for dysmenorrhea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;3:CD002124. PMID: 27000311. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27000311.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dysmenorrhea: painful periods. FAQ046, January 2015. www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Dysmenorrhea-Painful-Periods. Accessed June 29, 2016.


Review Date: 5/21/2016
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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