The most striking event in the whole process of female puberty is the onset of menstruation. To our knowledge, no large population-based studies have been performed on the topic of menstrual health among Italian adolescents in recent years.
The aims of this study were to produce up-to-date information on the menstrual pattern of Italian girls attending secondary school, and to estimate the prevalence of menstrual cycle abnormalities in this population.
This was a cross-sectional study on a population-based sample of Italian adolescents aged 13–21 years attending secondary school. Only girls who had already started menstruating were requested to participate. Information was collected by means of a questionnaire that included items on the girls’ demographic details, anthropometrics, smoking and drinking habits, use of contraceptive pills, and socioeconomic status. The questions on the girls’ menstrual pattern concerned their age at menarche, duration of the most recent menstruation intervals (<21, 21–35, >35 days, variable), average days of bleeding (<4, 4–6, >6 days), and any menstrual problems and their frequency.
A total of 6,924 questionnaires were administered and 4,992 (71%) were returned. One hundred girls failed to report their date of birth, so 4,892 subjects were analyzed. The girls’ mean age was 17.1 years (SD ±1.4); their mean age at menarche was 12.4 (±1.3) years, median 12.4 years (95%CI 12.3–12.5).
In our sample population, 3.0% (95%CI 2.5%-3.4%) of the girls had menstruation intervals of less than 21 days, while it was more than 35 days in 3.4% (95%CI 2.9%-3.9%). About 9% of the girls (95%CI 7.7%-9.4%) said the length of their menstruation interval was currently irregular. Short bleeding periods (<4 days) were reported in 3.2% of the sample population (95%CI 2.7%-3.7%), long periods (>6 days) in 19% (95%CI 17.9%-20.1%). Menstruation-related abdominal pain was reported by about 56% of our sample. About 6.2% of the girls (95%CI 5.4%-7.0%) were suffering from dysmenorrhea.
In conclusion, to the best of our knowledge, this is one of the largest studies on menstrual patterns and menstrual disorders among Italian adolescent girls. Adolescent girls referring persistent oligomenorrhoea, in first two years from menarche, had a higher risk for developing a persistent menstrual irregularity. They had longer bleeding periods (>6 days) and this has practical implications because it makes these adolescents potentially more susceptible to iron deficiency anemia. Clinicians need to identify menstrual abnormalities as early as possible in order to minimize their possible consequences and sequelae, and to promote proper health information.
We recommend that adolescents should be encouraged to chart their menstrual frequency and regularity prospectively from the menarche onwards.