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A to Z: Dysmenorrhea

May also be called: Painful Period; Difficult Period

"Dysmenorrhea" (dis-men-uh-REE-uh) means difficult or painful periods.

More to Know

Prostaglandins (chemicals that make the muscles of the uterus contract) are the cause of the cramps that some girls have during their periods. Cramps are more common in girls with heavy menstrual flow.


Cramps for a day or two during a period are normal, but severe pain can get in the way of school, studying, or sleeping. Some girls also have diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and/or dizziness.

Girls with dysmenorrhea can be diagnosed with:

  • Primary dysmenorrhea, a gynecologic problem that affects many girls. Pain usually starts when bleeding begins and lasts for 32–48 hours.

  • Secondary dysmenorrhea, menstrual pain related to other medical conditions. This type is rare.

Keep in Mind

Some girls have no pain during their periods, but others experience painful cramps in the abdomen and lower back. Medications usually can help manage this pain successfully.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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