Menstrual health is a topic that is often neglected and ignored. In particular, issues pertaining to menstrual pain can be overlooked because of the silence that surrounds it. However, I recently read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine about period pain. It mentioned Professor John Guillebaud, of University College London, who has described the severity in pain as being “almost as bad as a heart attack”.
However, it remains true that many doctors dismiss menstrual pain as irrelevant when brought up by a patient. As a practicing doctor, I have come across patients in casualty complaining of period pain. Shamefully, I admit that I have trivialized these women and their pain or regarded them as ‘hysterical’ because my internalized sexism chooses not to believe them or expects them to deal with the pain (it’s all part of womanhood, isn’t it?). I believe many other doctors, both male and female, have harboured similar thoughts. As a result, women to wait longer for medical attention and sometimes receive inadequate pain management.
Menstrual pain interferes with the daily life of one in five women. The two main causes of menstrual pain have been found to be primary dysmenorrhoea or endometriosis. It is often difficult to differentiate the two because they can present with similar symptoms. Endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose – in some instances the process can take up to a decade. Doctors have struggled to find the specific medical causes for primary dysmenorrhoea. This may be related to the poor quality or low volume of sufficient scientific and medical research into menstrual pain.
I believe that the society and culture we’re in chooses to ignore menstrual pain or completely disregard it. At times males cannot relate because they cannot share the experience. As women, we are not taught not to discuss menstruation openly and to keep the great physical and emotional distress we may have to go through to ourselves.
In the workforce, menstrual pain is seen as a hindrance – yet another reason to deny women equality in the workplace. In schools, girls and young women are shamed for their pain and as a result, many choose to stay at home if the intensity increases.
There are changes that need to take place regarding menstrual pain:
- Increased awareness around menstrual pain and its causes
- Open discussions about menstrual health in the media, schools, offices and GP rooms
- Consideration of period leave for girls and women
- Working to removing the stigma around menstruation more widely
- Increased scientific research into menstrual pain, including causes & management
- Access to adequate and safe pain management for women
- Recognition of menstrual pain as a public health matter
Menstruation is a normal biological process and we should not shame women for it. We must not neglect menstrual pain or matters surrounding it. We need to open dialogue and provide more medical information on menstrual pain to help the many women who suffer silently.