Primary Dysmenorrhea in Adolescents: Prevalence, Impact and Recent Knowledge

Vincenzo De Sanctis, Ashraf Soliman, Sergio Bernasconi, Luigi Bianchin, Gianni Bona, Mauro Bozzola, Fabio Buzi, Carlo De Sanctis, Giorgio Tonini, Franco Rigon, Egle Perissinotto

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Dysmenorrhea is commonly categorized into two types; primary and secondary. Primary dysmenorrhea (PD) is the focus of this review. PD is defined as painful menses with cramping sensation in the lower abdomen that is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremulousness. All these symptoms occur just before or during the menses in women with normal pelvic anatomy. In adolescents the prevalence of PD varies between 16% and 93%, with severe pain perceived in 2% to 29% of the studied girls. Several studies suggest that severe menstrual pain is associated with absenteeism from school or work and limitation of other daily activities. One-third to one-half of females with PD are missing school or work at least once per cycle, and more frequently in 5% to 14% of them. The wide variation in the prevalence rates may be attributed to the use of selected groups of subjects. Many risk factors are associated with increased severity of dysmenorrhea including earlier age at menarche, long menstrual periods, heavy menstrual flow, smoking and positive family history. Young women using oral contraceptive pills (OCP) report less severe dysmenorrhea. The considerably high prevalence of dysmenorrhea among adolescents verified that this condition is a significant public health problem that requires great attention. SUMMARY OF MAIN RESULTS: Many methodological problems are encountered during quantifying and grading severity of pain related to dysmenorrhea. Quantifying and assessment tools depend on women's self-reporting with potential bias. There is a scarcity of longitudinal studies on the natural history of dysmenorrhea as well as the possible effects of many modifiable risk factors. In addition, the duration of follow-up in the available studies is relatively short. Therefore, several aspects are still open for research. Medical treatment for dysmenorrhea includes anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), OCP or surgical intervention. The efficacy of conventional treatments using NSAIDs and OCP is high. However, failure rate may reach up to 20% to 25%, besides the occurrence of drug-associated adverse effects. Only 6% of adolescents receive medical advice to treat dysmenorrhea while 70% practice self-management. Unfortunately, some girls even abuse these medications (non-therapeutic high doses) for quick pain relief. The persistence of dysmenorrhea despite the use of OCP and/or NSAIDs drugs is a strong indicator of an organic pelvic disease. This condition mandates an appropriate referral to a gynecologist with proper laparoscopic diagnosis of endometriosis and/or other pelvic diseases.

CONCLUSIONS: Dysmenorrhea is an important health problem for adolescents, school and occupational as well as practitioners that adversely affects the daily activities and quality of life for adolescent women. The accurate prevalence of dysmenorrhea is difficult to establish due to the variety of diagnostic criteria and the subjective nature of the symptoms. In adolescents, moderate to severe dysmenorrhea that affects lifestyle and does not respond to medical treatment requires professional attention and proper diagnosis of possible underlying pelvic disease. Therefore, adolescent care providers should be more knowledgeable and actively involved in the care of dysmenorrhea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-520
Number of pages9
JournalPediatric Endocrinology Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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