Dysmenorrhea is the leading cause of recurrent short-term school absenteeism among adolescent girls. Controversy surrounds the relative role of psychologic and biologic variables in the pathogenesis of dysmenorrhea. Therefore, data from 2,699 menarcheal adolescents, drawn from a national probability sample of 12- to 17-year-old girls (the National Health Examination Survey), were analyzed by bivariate and multivariate analytic techniques for biologic, psychologic, and demographic correlates of dysmenorrhea. Of 1,611 adolescents (59.7%) who report dysmenorrhea, 14% frequently miss school because of cramps. The greatest proportion of variation of independent variables in a stepwise multiple regression analysis in this study was predicted by gynecologic or postmenarcheal age. Preparation for menarche, a psychologic variable, did not predict either dysmenorrhea or subsequent school absence. Socioeconomic status was positively correlated with dysmenorrhea although race was not. However, black students (23.6%) miss more school because of dysmenorrhea than white students (12.3%) even when socioeconomic status is held constant. Data in this study suggest that biologic variables play a substantial role in the pathogenesis of dysmenorrhea.

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