Life&Style’s Deyna Grimshaw reflects on the severity of period pains and advocates for them to be taken more seriously; to be seen as a legitimate health issue rather than ignoring and stigmatising them
Almost everyone who has periods will have experienced period pains at some point. From light cramps to debilitating, vomit-inducing agony, we all experience this pain (known technically as ‘dysmenorrhoea’) differently. So, why is it that this pain is so often ignored and downplayed, to the point where it is not even seen as a legitimate reason to need time off work or school?
According to the NHS, the specific reason that people in general (without other medical conditions) experience pain during menstruation is due to the following: ‘When the wall of the womb contracts, it compresses the blood vessels lining your womb. This temporarily cuts off the blood supply – and oxygen supply – to your womb. Without oxygen, the tissues in your womb release chemicals that trigger pain’. This does not even take into account the extra medical conditions that so many people face, including endometriosis, fibroids and cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease and adenomyosis.
One study found that somewhere between 5% and 10% of women (the study was limited to those who identify as women only) experience period pain severe enough to disrupt their daily life. For some people, disruptive symptoms can include extreme abdominal cramps, vomiting, fainting, diarrhoea, as well as others. What is worse is that these symptoms can be accentuated by certain forms of birth control, particularly the IUD.
As someone who has suffered from very difficult periods throughout my life, I understand the difficulties of getting people to understand the problems that menstruation can cause. The pain that I can feel during my time of the month, even despite having been placed on the pill at a young age in order to ease the pain (it did not work), can include being physically doubled over in pain and unable to move due to extreme nausea. On the worst days, it can be difficult to even get out of bed, and typical painkillers such as paracetamol really do not touch the pain.
One father in Cornwall, Marcus Alleyne, has started a petition to have dysmenorrhoea formally recognised after he was informed that his daughter missing school owing to illness during her period was not a ‘legitimate reason’. A former Navy medic, Alleyne was appalled that pain and sickness was not felt to be a valid reason to miss school, stating ‘If I had said she was suffering a migraine then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.’ This highlights the fact that women’s menstruation and reproductive issues are so often dismissed as being dramatic, when in fact some period pain has been likened to the pain of a heart attack.
In the modern day, it seems unnatural that female reproductive health can still be so heavily ignored, however it is unsurprising when it is so underfunded, as Jennifer Saunders noted at the end of 2020. With 3.7 billion people on the planet with the reproductive organs to menstruate, it is about time we start to do better, and remove the stigma which still surrounds periods and the pain that they cause.
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