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Menstruation Disorders in Adolescents Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Kirsten J Sasaki, MD; Chief Editor: Andrea L Zuckerman, MD  more...
Updated: Mar 09, 2015


Primary amenorrhea

Although primary amenorrhea is not diagnosed until a female with normal secondary sexual characteristics has reached the age of 16, it is recommended to start an evaluation if she has failed to menstruate by the age of 15 or within 5 years of breast development. Another indication of delayed puberty, and cause for workup, is lack of breast development by the age of 13 years.

The evaluation should start with a thorough history to assess for any history of vaginal bleeding, development of other secondary sexual characteristics, or evidence of excess androgens, such as hirsutism or increased muscle mass. A review of systems should include any changes in weight, stress or activity level, headaches, visual disturbances, or milk production.

The past medical history should include questions about childhood health or chronic illness, as well as use of any medications, including metoclopramide and antipsychotic agents. The family history should include any history of delayed puberty or premature ovarian failure.

Abnormal uterine bleeding

Evaluation of abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) should commence with a thorough history that includes, including age of menarche, menstrual bleeding patterns (eg, number of cycles over the past 12 months), duration and severity of menstrual flow, and pelvic pain associated with the cycle.

Some adolescents may find the creation of a menstrual calendar or diary helpful for identifying menstrual patterns.[14] Because every woman changes her pad or tampon differently, it may be difficult at times to establish the presence of heavy menstrual flow; in such cases, it may be helpful to ask about use of overflow pads or multiple pads or about disruption of daily activity as a result of menstrual flow.

A history of current or previous sexual activity should be elicited, as well as a history of any previous sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and any current vaginal discharge or dysuria. These questions should be posed in a nonthreatening, nonaccusatory manner. Relating the identification of the menstrual disorder to a possible infection may place the adolescent at ease.

All chronic medical conditions and all medications or herbal supplements should be identified. Specific inquiries should be made about the use of anticoagulants, antipsychotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hormonal contraceptives, which can all cause irregular menses. All previous surgical procedures should be noted, and any complications (eg, postoperative bleeding) should be detailed.

Another important component of the history includes a thorough family history for bleeding disorders, especially von Willebrand disease. If a patient is taking any short-acting exogenous hormones, especially if she is doing so for contraception, it is important to ensure that these agents are being taken appropriately and consistently.


Dysmenorrhea can occur with regular bleeding patterns or can be associated with abnormal uterine bleeding. Primary dysmenorrhea presents with painful menses and occasionally is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and headache.[10] In secondary dysmenorrhea, the pain often precedes the onset of menses.

Endometriosis may be asymptomatic but can also cause cyclic and acyclic pelvic pain, painful menses, dysuria, dyschezia and infertility. It may be present in as many as 70% of adolescents who present with dysmenorrhea.[37] Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can present with painful, irregular uterine bleeding or vaginal discharge.


Physical Examination

Primary amenorrhea

Physical examination for primary amenorrhea begins with measurement of height, weight, body mass index (BMI), and vital signs. One should also evaluate for staging of thelarche and adrenarche, as well as for signs of hyperandrogenism, including hirsutism, acne, and clitoromegaly.

Thelarche marks the beginning of breast development and includes five Tanner stages, as follows[4] :

  • Stage 1 - No palpable breast tissue
  • Stage 2 - Development of breast buds with elevation of the papilla
  • Stage 3 - Enlargement of the breast without separation of the areola
  • Stage 4 - Formation of a secondary mound, as the areola and papilla project above the breast
  • Stage 5 - Recession of the areola to the contour of the breast

Adrenarche indicates the activation of the adrenal cortex to produce androgens; it is associated with pubarche, or the development of pubic hair.

The examination should also include evaluation of physical features consistent with Turner syndrome, such as short stature, webbed neck, shield chest, and widely spaced nipples. If feasible, a genital examination should be performed to evaluate for presence of an imperforate hymen, absent or blind-ending vagina, or transverse vaginal septum, as well as the presence of a cervix, uterus and ovaries. If this is not possible, imaging can be performed to evaluate for the presence of müllerian structures.

Abnormal uterine bleeding

Physical examination for AUB should include height, weight, BMI, and vital signs. As with the examination for amenorrheic patients, one should inspect for signs of hyperandrogenism and also for indications of insulin resistance, which may suggest polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If there is suspicion of a possible bleeding disorder, physical evaluation should include inspection for petechiae, skin pallor, ecchymoses, and swollen joints.

If there is concerned about possible PID, a speculum examination should be performed to inspect for discharge, and endocervical samples should be collected for detection of gonorrhea or chlamydia. Urine samples can also be tested with nucleic acid amplification if a vaginal examination is not feasible. A bimanual examination assessing for cervical motion tenderness, uterine and adnexal tenderness is also important when there is concern about possible STI.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Kirsten J Sasaki, MD Associate, Advanced Gynecologic Surgery Institute

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Charles E Miller, MD, FACOG Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine; Director, Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery, Director, AAGL/SRS Fellowship in Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital

Charles E Miller, MD, FACOG is a member of the following medical societies: Endometriosis Association, International Academy of Pelvic Surgery, International Society for Gynecologic Endoscopy, Society of Reproductive Surgeons, Society of Robotic Surgery

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: AbbVie, Covidien, Ethicon, Gynesonics, Halt Medical, Hologic, Inc., Intuitive Surgical, Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Smith & Nephew Endoscopy, Stryker Endoscopy<br/>Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: Ethicon, Intuitive Surgical, Smith & Nephew Endoscopy<br/>Royalties for: Thomas Medical/Catheter Research, Inc. (Miller Catheter).

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Wayne Wolfram, MD, MPH Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mercy St Vincent Medical Center; Chairman, Pediatric Institutional Review Board, Mercy St Vincent Medical Center, Toledo, Ohio

Wayne Wolfram, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Andrea L Zuckerman, MD Associate Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Tufts University School of Medicine; Division Director, Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, Tufts Medical Center

Andrea L Zuckerman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Massachusetts Medical Society, North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Elizabeth Alderman, MD Director, Pediatric Residency Program, Director of Fellowship Training Program, Adolescent Medicine, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Children's Hospital at Montefiore

Elizabeth Alderman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Latha Chandran, MBBS, MD, MPH Professor of Pediatrics, Vice Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, New York

Latha Chandran, MBBS, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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