What’s The Story?
Last month, new research revealed what we all knew: period pains can be pretty bad. But turns out they have the potential to be much worse than they’re given credit for –John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, told Quartz patients have often described their cramping pains as “almost as bad as having a heart attack.”
Dysmenorrhea, the technical term for painful menstruation, interferes with the daily activities of around 20 per cent of women, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.“Certainly period pains can be debilitating enough to prevent women from doing their normal day to day activity and in some cases they need to be hospitalised,” Highgate Hospital’s consultant gynaecologist Moneli Golara told us. Guillebauld added, “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.”
Why Has This Been Ignored For So Long?
There’s one simple explanation: Women’s pain is generally taken less seriously than men’s. Research revealed that, while men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated for abdominal pain, women will wait 65 minutes for the same symptoms. A study entitled The Girl Who Cried Pain identified the ways gender bias tends to play out when it comes to clinical pain management, finding women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the healthcare system until they ‘prove they are as sick as male patients.’.”
What’s Being Done About It?
In short, not much. The two main conditions linked to severe period pains are dysmenorrhea and endometriosis – the latter, if bad enough, can be improved by surgery, and eradicated by a hysterectomy. But the former has no clear solution, and is only placated by taking painkillers, or using the contraceptive pill to reduce the flow of the period. “There has been research into dysmenorrhea – causes and treatments – but more research is always welcome to explore newer treatments and prevention,” Moneli said.
What’s Left To Do?
Given the obvious extremity of pain some women find themselves in, this is a topic that needs a far more thorough investigation. “Women play such a big role in the economy of the country and it’s wrong to assume that you can just ‘get on with it’,” agreed Moneli. “It can be a real problem, causing absence from work and an inability to run a successful work routine.”
Luckily, the taboo of menstruation is slowly being broken, thanks to several positive publicity stunts and companies like Nike, who offer paid ‘menstrual leave’ to its employees. But in order to truly be taken seriously, it needs to be explored properly. Richard Legro M.D., of Penn State College of Medicine told Quartz that, despite his attempts to investigate a potential cure, no one will fund the research. “I’ve applied three or four times but it always gets rejected,” he said. “The bottom line is that nobody thinks menstrual cramps is an important public health issue.”
If you’re feeling the effects from severe period pains, don’t suffer in silence, Moneli advises. “There are multiple ways of offering treatment to women which don’t have a longstanding effect on health or fertility.” And we need to be talking to our doctors about how traumatic periods can truly be in order to bring the conversation to the forefront of their attention.