One to 3 days of menstrual pain is associated with rapid gray matter alterations in the brain.
Dysmenorrhea is the most prevalent gynecological disorder in women of child-bearing age. Dysmenorrhea is associated with central sensitization and functional and structural changes in the brain. Our recent brain morphometry study disclosed that dysmenorrhea is associated with trait-related abnormal gray matter (GM) changes, even in the absence of menstrual pain, indicating that the adolescent brain is vulnerable to menstrual pain. Here we report rapid state-related brain morphological changes, ie, between pain and pain-free states, in dysmenorrhea. We used T1-weighted anatomic magnetic resonance imaging to investigate regional GM volume changes between menstruation and periovulatory phases in 32 dysmenorrhea subjects and 32 age- and menstrual cycle-matched asymptomatic controls. An optimized voxel-based morphometry analysis was conducted to disclose the possible state-related regional GM volume changes across different menstrual phases. A correlation analysis was also conducted between GM differences and the current menstrual pain experience in the dysmenorrhea group. Compared with the periovulatory phase, the dysmenorrhea subjects revealed greater hypertrophic GM changes than controls during the menstruation phase in regions involved in pain modulation, generation of the affective experience, and regulation of endocrine function, whereas atrophic GM changes were found in regions associated with pain transmission. Volume changes in regions involved in the regulation of endocrine function and pain transmission correlated with the menstrual pain experience scores. Our results demonstrated that short-lasting cyclic menstrual pain is associated not only with trait-related but also rapid state-related structural alterations in the brain. Considering the high prevalence rate of menstrual pain, these findings mandate a great demand to revisit dysmenorrhea with regard to its impact on the brain and other clinical pain conditions.