Given that well over half of all women of childbearing age suffer from menstrual cramps to varying degrees, good statistical data, analysis and interpretation are in relatively short supply.
Only a few developed nations have meaningful research and most underdeveloped nations have none at all. For certain, this challenge is a unifying factor for women everywhere.
In a cross-sectional analytical study of 408 young Italian women, published in the Journal of Pain Research, “menstrual pain was reported by 84.1% ...with 43.1% reporting that pain occurred during every period.” 55.2% expressed a need for medication.
According to the researchers, "a lot of women normalized symptoms... like severe pain, which stops them from going to school."
"Dysmenorrhea is the most commonly reported menstrual disorder. More than one-half of women who menstruate have some pain for 1–2 days each month."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ocog.org Fact Sheet
According to the Association of American Family Physicians "dysmenorrhea... is the leading cause of recurrent short-term school absenteeism..."
The JAMA Network conducted research into the negative impact of dysmenorrhea “on social, academic, and sports activities” among female Hispanic adolescents.
Of the 706 Hispanic participants in grades 9 through 12, “38% reported missing school due to dysmenorrhea during the 3 months prior to the survey and 33% reported missing individual classes.
Activities affected by dysmenorrhea included class concentration (59%), sports (51%), class participation (50%), socialization (46%), homework (35%), test-taking skills (36%), and grades (29%).
Treatments taken for dysmenorrhea included rest (58%), medications (52%), heating pad (26%), tea (20%), exercise (15%), and herbs (7%). Fourteen percent consulted a physician and 49% saw a school nurse for help with their symptoms.”
Prevalence rates reported in the United Kingdom were between 45 and 97 percent for any dysmenorrhea in community-based studies, and between 41 and 62 percent in hospital-based studies.
The Global Journal of Health Science published a cross-sectional study conducted with 1000 healthy females aged 11-28 years.
Standardized self-reporting questionnaires were used to obtain relevant data. Pain intensity was assessed by using the Numerical Pain Scale (NPS).
The prevalence of dysmenorrhea was reported to be 70.2%, which is a little lower than other countries but may be accounted for by the young age of some participants.
83.2% depended on non-pharmacological methods. Only 14.2% had sought medical advice.
Researchers concluded that “health education on puberty and menstruation is regarded as inadequate for many girls in India.”
“A systematic review and meta-analysis of prevalence rates among high-quality studies with samples representative of the general worldwide population (search date 2004) found that prevalence of dysmenorrhea was 59 percent (95% confidence interval, 49 to 71 percent).
By extrapolation, we estimate over one billion women of childbearing age globally may suffer from cramps to varying degrees. Because of the social stigma around menstruation generally, women often suffer in silence.
Given the cumulative toll of period pain (and PMS) on young women, they face a distinct disadvantage academically in lost days. In some shame-based societies, social stigma drives adolescent girls to drop out of school entirely.
Researchers have shown that an individual's ethnic background is a major determinant of how one expresses or communicates pain. Access to support also varies greatly.
Yurika will continue to gather data from various countries as it becomes available, in order to compare how culture and lifestyle factors may influence women as they face this most fundamental challenge.
Clinical Evidence Handbook - a publication of the BMJ
(Reprinted in Am Fam Physician 2012, Feb 15)