Dysmenorrhea is a medical term used to describe difficult menstrual flow or painful menstruation. It is the commonest form of menstrual disorders, experienced by 45-49% of women of reproductive age group.

What are the types of dysmenorrhea?

Difficult menstrual flow or painful menstruation could either be:

  • Primary or
  • Secondary

What is primary dysmenorrhea?

Primary dysmenorrhea: is a painful menstrual flow that is not associated with any underlying medical condition. It usually starts around first year of the onset of a female’s menstrual periods. The pain usually peaks in late adolescence and the early twenties. The relative frequency of occurrence falls with increasing age and with increased child birth. It is by far the commonest form of painful menstruation affecting about 50% of post pubertal females.

What factors increases the chances of developing primary dysmenorrhea?

  • Duration of menstrual flow more than 5 days
  • Younger than normal age at onset of menstrual flow (less than 12 years)
  • Heavy menstrual flow
  • Obesity
  • Cigarrete smoking
  • A female that has never given birth

What induces primary dysmenorrhea?

DYSMENORRHEADuring a woman’s menstrual cycle, the inner layer of the uterus (womb) normally thickens in preparation for potential pregnancy under the influence of hormones secreted by the body.

However, after ovulation if fertilization does not occur and there is no pregnancy, the already thickened layer of the womb is shed- menstruation.

During menstruation, a substance termed PROSTAGLANDIN is released following destruction of the inner layer of the womb. This substance along with other ones, cause the muscles in the womb to contract (compress). The compression of these muscles prevents blood supply/oxygen to this area of the womb which then breaks down and dies.

Under the influence of the PROSTAGLANDIN, the cycle of compression, break down and death of tissues continues which are continuously shed out of the body via the vagina. These prolonged compressions with associated temporary oxygen deprivation/decreased blood flow to the nearby tissues are responsible for the “pains” or “cramps” felt during menstruation. And the pain gradually decreases as the level of PROSTAGLANDIN falls.

Describing the pain of dysmenorrhea

It is usually accounted as crampy lower abdominal pain that starts at the onset of menstrual flow and lasts for 8 to 72 hours and usually varies in severity among women. It could also be accompanied by the following:

  • Back pain
  • Heavy menstrual flow
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Hypersensitivity to sound, light, smell and touch

The pain could be excruciating and debilitating to the extent of causing absenteeism from school and work.

It is worthy to note that primary dysmenorrhea usually responds to drugs that suppress the actions of PROSTAGLANDIN (called NONSTEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS)

Click NEXT PAGE: secondary dysmenorrhea, symptoms/signs, diagnosis, treatment

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