Menstrual disorders can include premenstrual syndrome, menstrual cramps, heavy menstrual periods, or total absence of menstrual periods. Menstrual disorders are considered common, and almost all women are believed to suffer from some form of menstrual disorder at some time during their lives. Not all menstrual disorders are serious, however.
Painful uterine cramps with menstruation, a condition known as dysmenorrhea, may be one of the most common menstrual disorders. When menstruation beings, the uterus begins to secrete prostaglandins, hormones responsible for prompting uterine contractions. These contractions help the uterus to shed its lining. Many women experience dysmenorrhea, often from their very first period. Dysmenorrhea is not considered serious and usually goes away after or during menstruation.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is another menstrual disorder thought to be quite common. As many as 75 percent of women are believed to experience at least mild symptoms of PMS regularly. This disorder can cause physical and emotional symptoms that may be related to hormonal changes within the body.
Symptoms usually begin about a week before menstruation, and may worsen until menstruation begins, when they usually disappear. Physical symptoms can include tenderness of the breasts, constipation, fatigue, bloating, and headaches. Emotional symptoms may include irritability, depression, mood swings, and trouble concentrating.
Amenorrhea, the total absence of a menstrual period, is usually classified into two types, primary and secondary. Primary amenorrhea is often diagnosed in girls who have reached the age of 16 without having had a first menstrual period, or menarche. It can be due to endocrine problems, eating disorders, or reproductive deformities. Secondary amenorrhea typically occurs when a woman who normally menstruates fails to menstruate for three to six months. While excessive exercise, stress, illness and reproductive disorders can contribute to amenorrhea, the most common cause is believed to be pregnancy.
Menorrhagia, or heavy menstruation, is usually defined as a menstrual period that lasts longer than seven days, or that produces abnormally large amounts of menstrual blood. Women with menorrhagia sometimes find clots in the menstrual blood. While the normal woman may bleed about one-third of a cup (78.07 milliliters) during the average menstrual period, a woman with menorrhagia might expel 3.3 cups (.78 liters) to 8.3 cups (1.95 liters) of menstrual blood with each period. Causes of menorrhagia can include growths or tumors of the uterus, use of IUDs, certain types of cancer, and hormonal problems.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, is a mood disorder associated with menstruation that is believed to affect three to eight percent of women. Symptoms can include severe mood swings, anxiety and irritability. Other physical and emotional symptoms, similar to those of PMS but generally far more severe, can occur. These symptoms usually appear about a week before menstruation and have usually receded by the third day after menstruation begins.