Can Menstrual Pain Be As Painful As A Heart Attack?
We all experience periods differently, and there’s certainly no such thing as ‘normal’. But at some point, most of us will experience the sort of cramps that feel like your insides are trying to dig their way out.
Despite this, because of fears of ‘over-sharing’, or being accused of being overdramatic, we often suffer in silence. Women's health, especially when it comes to the dreaded topic of menstruation, has been historically swept beneath the rug and misunderstood. Being told to suck it up and have an ibuprofen is a common frustration. In fact, even this week a woman was made to leave an Emirates flight after she complained to her boyfriend about period pain!
Historically there has been minimal research into dysmenorrhea (the official term for painful periods). So though no women need to be told what it feels like, it’s still satisfying for this to be recognised by a Professor of Reproductive Health at University College London. In fact, Professor John Guillebaud, recently told Quartz that menstrual pain can be “almost as bad as having a heart attack.
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You may not be overjoyed about it needing a male professor to acknowledge what women go through every month to gain recognition, but any progress in opening the conversation should be taken as progress. As Guillebaud explained, there is still a ‘culture of silence’ around periods: "Men don't get it and it hasn't been given the centrality it should have. I do believe it's something that should be taken care of, like anything else in medicine.
As you might imagine, the news provoked some quality comments on Twitter!
There are two main causes of severe period pain: Dysmenorrhea and endometriosis. It’s estimated that while 20% of women have dysmenorrhea, and the medical reasons for it are largely unknown. Meanwhile, around 10% of ovulating women have endometriosis; but it can often take years to get an accurate diagnosis. As the distinction between the two conditions is not clear-cut, many women suffering dysmenorrhea may have undiagnosed endometriosis.
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Endometriosis occurs when the tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows on other areas, such as fallopian tubes and ovaries. In rare cases, this tissue has also been found on the bladder and intestines, and even the lungs! The body reacts to these lesions with inflammation and an attempt to cover it with scar tissue, and one of the most common symptoms is severe menstrual cramps. Left untreated, it can cause infertility. But unfortunately there’s still confusion about what causes endometriosis, and why some women are more predisposed to the condition.
We clearly have a long way to go. But if your period causes pain, don’t grimace and bear it: Talk to your doctor, and open up with your friends. Not only might it be a sign of endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome, but there may be something your GP can suggest to ease the symptoms. And after all, we may have to power on through, but that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to acknowledge it. And the sooner it begins to be properly recognised, the better.