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Health

Period pain as bad as a heart attack? – This needs to be talked about

Elleen Pan

You have probably heard the word period, but have you really heard about it? (not the grammatical term, the female term)  

So let’s talk about p-e-r-i-o-d baby, let’s talk about you and me because like it or not, this is a conversation that involves everyone, all genders!

To do this, forget about all the squealing and squirming about the subject’s social nature, or anything socially controversial about the period conversation, let’s look at in terms of health.

For starters, who knew that period pain can actually be known as dysmenorrhea? That’s right, dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain due to contractions in the uterus, or menstrual cramps.

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This term for painful menstruation is explained as a condition that interferes with the daily life of one in five girls and women.

Recently, Olivia Goldhill wrote a Quartz article opening up the period pain conversation and posing a challenging question to global citizens everywhere, should there be more research dedicated to it?

Starting with some basics

There are two medical conditions linked to menstrual pain:

1. Primary dysmenorrhea which is simply a painful period that tends to affect females as soon as they start menstruation. There is no certain medical explanation or cause.

2. Endometriosis which is when the tissue lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus and on other areas within the body. This tissue acts normal during a period, but it has no way to exit the body and remains trapped, causing pain.

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The distinction between the two conditions is not always clear and it is very possible for women suffering with primary dysmenorrhea to actually have an undiagnosed case of endometriosis.

There is an abundance of uncertainty regarding endometriosis. Uncertainty ranging from: not knowing the causes to not knowing why some women are predisposed to the condition to not knowing the appropriate treatment.

It is surprising that many physicians conclude that some cases of infertility can be traced back to endometriosis, but the research stops there. If diagnosed with endometriosis, the most common treatment that women can undergo is the removal of the excess tissue, or possibly a hysterectomy, but even still the pain may persist.  

Remarkably, there is little research on both of these conditions and too many doctors are dismissive when presented with symptoms of this kind of pain. Many physicians are taught to call it a day with some simple ibuprofen, painkiller pills, or some type of contraception pill that will stop a period flow altogether.

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Why does period pain matter?

Girls and women make up more than half the world’s population and are deeply influenced by extreme poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of access to health care, and economical situations. Contributions made by female leaders are vital to finding a sustainable tomorrow, but strong decisions and impactful actions can only be made if females are healthy and able-bodied.

All around the world, women are breaking menstruation taboos, because no girl should miss out on educational opportunity because of her menstruation cycle or pain from her period. Even with missing out on school, period pain can further affect women by counting them out of simple daily activities and opportunities that may ultimately lead families out of poverty. Period pain is no joke and with the right treatment and access to healthcare tools, females should be able to thrive.  

A Public Health Revolution  

A professor of reproductive health at University College London, John Guillebaud, explained to Goldhill that he doesn’t understand the lack of research because patients have described period pain cramps to be “almost as bad as having a heart attack.”

If period pain can be that bad, what’s going on here?

The professor thinks the lack of research is due to a culture of indifference:

“I think it happens with both genders of doctor. On the one hand, men don’t suffer the pain and underestimate how much it is or can be in some women. But I think some women doctors can be a bit unsympathetic because either they don’t get it themselves or if they do get it they think, ‘Well I can live with it, so can my patient.’” 

Professor Guillebaud proves that this topic is more important than the fear of using words like “vagina” or “menstrual bleeding” or even "period" in this conversation because this kind of pain affects the daily lives of girls and women all over the world.

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Because of the lack of research, many in the medical community often misdiagnose endometriosis, or dismiss the pain from the get go and as many as 176 million women around the world may struggle with it.

Although endometriosis is not life-threatening it does, like any other disease, take a physical and emotional toll on an individual. More money should go into research regarding the causes and the effective treatment of period pain. Females shouldn’t have to undergo debilitating pain because they birth some babies! No one should!

It’s okay to talk about cramps and period pain because almost every female experiences something similar to it. Don’t be fooled, a period pain conversation is not just a social revolution, but rather a public health one. Period pain should not prevent girls and women from creating and sustaining progress in communities. Whether the lack of research is because of a culture of indifference or a culture of silence, period pain needs to be talked about. 

So, let’s recap: Is global period pain that bad?

Yes! It should be further researched! Period. End of the discussion! Well...end of the article...but not the end of the period conversation!