Primary dysmenorrhea in adolescent girls and treatment with oral contraceptives

J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2001 Feb;14(1):3-8. doi: 10.1016/s1083-3188(00)00076-0.


This review examines the prevalence, associated morbidity, and treatment of primary dysmenorrhea in adolescent girls. Relevant literature was examined by systematic, evidence-based review using MEDLINE and Cochrane Collaboration databases. Dysmenorrhea is highly prevalent during adolescence. Despite differences in measurement methods, 20%-90% of adolescent girls report dysmenorrhea and about 15% of adolescents describe their dysmenorrhea as severe. During adolescence, dysmenorrhea leads to high rates of school absence and activity nonparticipation. Most adolescents with dysmenorrhea self-medicate with over-the-counter preparations; few consult healthcare providers. Combined oral contraceptives (COC) are an accepted treatment for dysmenorrhea in nonadolescent women. However, data supporting the efficacy of COC is limited. Very small studies show decreased prostaglandin in menstrual fluid associated with high-dose COC use. Larger studies are limited to cross-sectional comparisons showing lower prevalence of dysmenorrhea in low-dose COC users compared to non-COC users. One small, randomized controlled trial including some adolescents demonstrated an improvement in dysmenorrhea with high-dose COC treatment compared to placebo. The efficacy of low-dose COC in the treatment of adolescent dysmenorrhea has yet to be determined. If effective, well-established safety and noncontraceptive health benefits may make COC an ideal treatment for dysmenorrhea in adolescent girls.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Contraceptives, Oral / administration & dosage
  • Contraceptives, Oral / therapeutic use*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Dysmenorrhea / complications
  • Dysmenorrhea / drug therapy*
  • Dysmenorrhea / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Prevalence


  • Contraceptives, Oral