Menstrual health is a topic that is often neglected and ignored. In particular, the issue of menstrual pain can be overlooked because of the stigma 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 described the severity in pain as being “almost as bad as a heart attack”.
Despite this, many doctors dismiss menstrual pain as irrelevant when a patient brings it up. 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. Because of my own internalized sexism, I have choosen not to believe them or expected them to just ‘deal with it’ (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 debilitating pain are primary dysmenorrhoea and endometriosis. It is often difficult to differentiate between the two because they can present with similar symptoms. Endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose – in some instances the diagnosis 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 menstrual pain is ignored or completely disregarded by our society and culture. 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
- More open discussions about menstrual health in the media, schools, offices and GP rooms to remove the stigma around menstruation
- Consideration of menstrual leave
- Increased scientific research
- 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 people 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.