Primary Dysmenorrhea: Diagnosis and Therapy

Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Nov;136(5):1047-1058. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000004096.


Primary dysmenorrhea is defined as pain during the menstrual cycle in the absence of an identifiable cause. It is one of the most common causes of pelvic pain in women. Dysmenorrhea can negatively affect a woman's quality of life and interfere with daily activities. The pathophysiology of primary dysmenorrhea is likely a result of the cyclooxygenase pathway producing increased prostanoids, particularly prostaglandins (PGs). The increased PGs cause uterine contractions that restrict blood flow and lead to the production of anaerobic metabolites that stimulate pain receptors. Women with a history typical for primary dysmenorrhea can initiate empiric treatment without additional testing. Shared decision making is key to effective management of dysmenorrhea to maximize patient compliance and satisfaction. After a discussion of their risks and benefits, extremely effective empiric therapies are nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and contraceptive hormonal therapy. Other treatments for primary dysmenorrhea can be employed solely or in combination with other modalities, but the literature supporting their use is not as convincing. The physician should initiate an evaluation for secondary dysmenorrhea if the patient does not report improved symptomatology after being compliant with their medical regimen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Dysmenorrhea / diagnosis*
  • Dysmenorrhea / metabolism
  • Dysmenorrhea / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Prostaglandins / biosynthesis


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Prostaglandins