Background: Population studies on normal and dysfunctional characteristics of menstrual cycles are scarce in Ethiopia. In addition variability in menarcheal age and menstrual characteristics are common. Knowledge on this variability is necessary for patient education and to guide clinical evaluation.
Methods: A cross sectional study was conducted in two small towns called Dabat and Kola Diba, northwest Ethiopia between April and May 2007. Systematic sampling method was used to select 622 school girls from two secondary schools. A pretested questionnaire prepared in Amharic was used to gather data. Selected girls cooperated in answering the questionnaire in their classrooms under the supervision of the research team. Only 612 of the adolescent females were included in the final analysis, of which 305 were from Koladiba High School and 307 from Dabat.
Results: The age of the study subjects ranges between 14 and 19 with a mean (standard deviation) of 16.9 +/- 1 years. About 92.2% had attained menarche by the time the survey was conducted. The probit analysis of the status quo data yielded a median (CI) age at menarche of 14.8 (13.9-15.3) years. The average age at menarche by recall method was 15.8 +/- 1 years. The mean age at menarche was 0.3 years younger for urban females compared with rural ones (p < 0.001). A cycle length between 21 and 35 days was observed in 70.3% of the girls. The mean duration of flow was 4 +/- 1.3 days with a range of 2-7 days. The menstrual cycles were irregular in 42.8% of the subjects. The overall prevalence of dysmenorrhoea was 72% among these subjects. Premenstrual symptoms were present in 435 of the females (75.4%). The leading sources of menarcheal information to the adolescents were mothers (39.7%), followed by their friends (26.6%) and teachers (21.8%).
Conclusion: In this study age of menarche was found to be delayed which is even higher than the findings indicated similar studies conducted in Ethiopia and other African countries. A significant number of students complain of abnormal menstrual cycle, dysmenorrhoea and premenstrual symptoms which call for appropriate counselling and management.