Primary dysmenorrhea

Am Fam Physician. 1999 Aug;60(2):489-96.


Primary dysmenorrhea is defined as cramping pain in the lower abdomen occurring just before or during menstruation, in the absence of other diseases such as endometriosis. Prevalence rates are as high as 90 percent. Initial presentation of primary dysmenorrhea typically occurs in adolescence. It is a common cause of absenteeism and reduced quality of life in women. The problem is often underdiagnosed and undertreated. Women with primary dysmenorrhea have increased production of endometrial prostaglandin, resulting in increased uterine tone and stronger, more frequent uterine contractions. A diagnostic evaluation is unnecessary in patients with typical symptoms and no risk factors for secondary causes. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are the mainstay of treatment, with the addition of oral contraceptive pills when necessary. About 10 percent of affected women do not respond to these measures. It is important to consider secondary causes of dysmenorrhea in women who do not respond to initial treatment. Many alternative treatments (ranging from acupuncture to laparoscopic surgery) have been studied, but the supporting studies are small, with limited long-term follow-up.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Dysmenorrhea* / diagnosis
  • Dysmenorrhea* / epidemiology
  • Dysmenorrhea* / etiology
  • Dysmenorrhea* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans