J Pain. 2021 Mar 21
Despite emerging evidence of associations between dysmenorrhea, enhanced pain sensitivity, and functional neuroimaging patterns consistent with chronic pain, it is unknown whether dysmenorrhea is prospectively associated with chronic pain development. Gaining a better understanding of this relationship could inform efforts in prevention of chronic pain. Using data from the national Midlife in the United States cohort, we examined the prospective association between dysmenorrhea and chronic pain development during a 10-year follow-up (starting 10 years after dysmenorrhea was measured) among 874 community-dwelling women aged 25-74 at baseline (when dysmenorrhea was measured). We fit modified Poisson regression models adjusting for sociodemographic, lifestyle and psychosocial factors. Among women who were menstruating at baseline, self-reported dysmenorrhea was associated with a 41% greater (95% confidence interval [CI] = 6%-88%) risk of developing chronic pain. Women with dysmenorrhea also developed chronic pain in more body regions (≥ 3 regions vs 1-2 regions vs none, odds ratio [OR] = 1.77, 95% CI = 1.18-2.64) and experienced greater pain interference (high-interference vs low-interference vs none, OR = 1.73, 95% CI = 1.15-2.59). Among women who had stopped menstruation at baseline, we did not find evidence of an association between their history of dysmenorrhea and subsequent risk of chronic pain development. Results suggest dysmenorrhea may be a general risk factor for chronic pain development among menstruating women. PERSPECTIVE: This study supports the temporality of dysmenorrhea and chronic pain development in a national female sample. Dysmenorrhea was also associated with developing more widespread and disabling pain among women who were still menstruating. Early management of dysmenorrhea may reduce the development and severity of chronic pain in women, although further research is required to determine whether dysmenorrhea is a causal risk factor or a risk marker of chronic pain.