Dysmenorrhea is the medical term used to describe pain accompanying menstruation, or menstrual cramps. Dysmenorrhea is a very common complaint among women, and for those who suffer it regularly, it can interfere profoundly in day-to-day activities such as work or school.
Dysmenorrhea occurs in conjunction with the menstrual cycle. For many sufferers, it occurs during menstruation, though it can occur at other times in a woman's cycle as well, such as during ovulation. There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary dysmenorrhea and secondary dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorhea is the term used to describe pain related to menstruation, but not related to any pelvic disorder or injury. The pain of primary dysmenorrhea is often identified as waves of lower abdominal pain or cramping, which may be associated with the contractions of the uterus during menstruation. The abdominal pain of primary dysmenorrhea in some cases can be accompanied by leg cramps or back ache, nausea, vomiting, and bowel problems such as diarrhea or constipation, as well. Additionally, daughters of mothers who suffered primary dysmenorrhea frequently suffer from primary dysmenorrhea themselves.
Secondary dysmenorrhea refers to pain related to menstruation and caused by pelvic inflammation or lesions from disease, surgical scarring, injuries to the reproductive tract, and sometimes implanted types of birth control (IUDs). While the pain of primary dysmenorrhea is often symmetrical, begins just before the onset of menstrual bleeding, and lasts only one or two days, the pain of secondary dysmenorrhea is often concentrated around the area affected by the lesions, begins several days before bleeding, and lasts for several days after the onset of bleeding.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to the severity of dysmenorrhea. These include obesity, chronic illness, stress, fatigue or exhaustion, lack of exercise, diabetes, age, and poor nutrition. The bloating and water retention that tends to occur around the time of menstruation can also worsen symptoms.