Painful Menstrual Periods

(Dysmenorrhea; Menstrual Cramps)

Definition

Painful menstrual periods, also called dysmenorrhea, may include pain in the pelvis, abdomen, back, or legs, abdominal cramps, headache, and fatigue. Most women have painful periods at some time in their lives. In some women, the pain is severe enough to interfere with normal activities.There are two types of dysmenorrhea:
  • Primary—painful regular menstrual cycles caused by uterine muscle contractions
  • Secondary—painful periods due to an underlying condition, such as endometriosis
Menstrual Flow
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Causes

Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by high levels of prostaglandins in the uterus. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances normally found throughout the body.Secondary dysmenorrhea can be caused by:

Risk Factors

Painful menstrual periods are more common in women under age 30 years. Other factors that may increase your risk of having painful menstrual periods include:
  • Low body weight, especially during adolescence
  • Smoking
  • Early onset of menstruation—younger than 12 years old
  • Longer menstrual cycles
  • Heavy bleeding during periods
  • Never having delivered a baby
  • Psychological disorders, such as depression or anxiety
You are also at risk if you have a related condition, such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts.

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