What is dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is a medical term that means "pain with menstruation." There are two classifications of dysmenorrhea, primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhea is what most women know as menstrual cramps. They may begin a few days before menstruation and are due to contractions of the uterus, believed to be caused by high levels of hormones called prostaglandins. More than half of women with dysmenorrhea have primary dysmenorrhea, and in 5 to 15 percent of these women, menstrual cramps are severe enough to cause absence from school, work or other activities.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain that is caused by some other condition in the reproductive system. In women who have secondary dysmenorrhea, pain and discomfort may be more severe and last longer than in women who have primary dysmenorrhea. Some common conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhea include:
  • endometriosis, a condition in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus, often in the fallopian tubes, on the ovaries, behind the uterus or on the bladder
  • adenomyosis, a condition in which tissue from the lining of the uterus grows in the muscles of the uterus
  • fibroids, growths on the outside, inside or walls of the uterus
  • cervical stenosis, narrowing of the opening to the uterus
  • pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the uterus and possibly other reproductive organs

Continue Learning about Dysmenorrhea (Painful Periods)

How is dysmenorrhea different from premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?
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Dysmenorrhea and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) both refer to conditions that can affect menstruating w...
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How is primary dysmenorrhea diagnosed?
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Primary dysmenorrhea is usually diagnosed by physical exam. The doctor will want to know about sympt...
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What increases my risk for dysmenorrhea?
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Primary dysmenorrhea is painful periods with no underlying gynecological cause. Primary dysmenorrhea...
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Does primary dysmenorrhea affect fertility?
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Primary dysmenorrhea does not affect your fertility. The most common cause of primary dysmenorrhea i...
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.