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Cycle Health

The Zoom In: What is Primary Dysmenorrhea

Looking into what primary dysmenorrhea is, when you can feel it, and what causes it

5 min read | March 19, 2022

What is primary dysmenorrhea? Primary dysmenorrhea — dysmenorrhea being the scientific term for menstrual pain — refers to cramping in the lower abdomen that you might feel before and/or during a period, when there is no reproductive disorder to account for these symptoms.

A menstrual cycle is accompanied by four stages/phases. These menstrual phases can also be accompanied by a few symptoms, from hormone imbalance to menstrual cramping or painful menstruation in general. Primary dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain in the lower abdomen, may be experienced before or during your period.

It all starts with prostaglandins, which are made in the lining of the uterus. ICYMI, prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that, during the menstrual cycle, help your uterine muscles contract, and your uterine lining (the endometrium) to shed. It happens when the uterus contracts to shed the lining. This is what might feel to you like menstrual cramps, or painful period pain or cramps.

This primary menstrual pain is caused by higher levels of prostaglandins. It’s not a given that your uterus will produce an excess of prostaglandins, but it is fairly common. 

The feeling of primary pain can vary body to body, but you might experience sharp, severe menstrual cramps that come and go; others may feel a lengthy dull ache. 

Primary pain typically begins 1-2 days before your period, and lessens over 12-72 hours. Painful menstrual cramps can be normal to a certain extent and depending on the pain intensity. A few pain relief treatments, like a warm treatment or a pain patch may help ease painful menstrual period cramps.

And if you’re feeling more pain that feels typical for your body, book in to see your health care provider. Primary dysmenorrhea is not to be confused or compared to secondary dysmenorrhea that is caused by pelvic pathology or a medical condition.

About Author

Your hormones can be complex and unpredictable. That’s why we’re here, on The Regular, to do what’s long overdue - to demystify what’s going on with our reproductive systems, our hormones and our whole cycle.

We’re here to support your day-to-day queries serving useful content that is uncomplicated and unbiased. No topic is too complicated or too specific for us to address/focus on.

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