Dysmenorrhea (Painful Periods)


Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful menstrual periods.

There are two types of dysmenorrhea:

  • Primary dysmenorrhea – the most common form, with painful cramping in the lower abdomen starting 1 to 2 days before a menstrual period and lasting 2 to 4 days
  • Secondary dysmenorrhea – when cramps are the result of a medical problem such asendometriosis

Patients can be seen by Texas Children's experts in Adolescent Medicine and Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

Causes & Risk Factors

The painful cramps are caused by the uterus (a muscle) contracting, or squeezing tight and then relaxing, to push the blood out. During the first few days of a girl’s period, the body releases special chemicals that make these contractions even stronger, or more painful.

Symptoms & Types

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal cramps that limit activity
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea 

Diagnosis & Tests

Diagnosis starts with a detailed medical history and thorough physical and abdominal exam. A pelvic exam may be conducted in some cases.

A healthcare provider may ask a woman to keep a detailed record of her period and the pain experienced – when, where, for how long, and how relief is obtained.

Treatment & Care

Treatment strategies include:

  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium
  • Oral contraceptive pills (birth control pills) – to stop the periods and associated pain
  • Heating pad or warm baths
  • Exercise
  • Healthy diet