No it’s not just you. Period pain can hurt as much as a heart attack.

My worst experience with period pain happened over a decade ago and I still remember it vividly.

I’d always suffered from a little pain and cramping but nothing like this. It woke me up. Sharp shards of pain ripping through my lower abdomen, causing me to curl up in the foetal position and beg my boyfriend for help. I didn’t have any period pain medication in the house and the paracetamol I had taken a few hours earlier had done nothing.

NOTHING.

“I need period pain medication,” I groaned. “We need to find an open chemist.”

My boyfriend helped me to the car because I wanted to go with him so that when we found a chemist that was open, I could take the medication immediately. It was 6:20AM(I had been writhing around since around 2:00AM) and we thought our best chance was to head to the chemist next to the nearest hospital. Their website said they’d open at 7:30AM. Maybe someone would arrive earlier.

Period pain with hot water bottle
Sometimes hot water bottles aren’t enough to alleviate period pain.

The pain was incredible. If I had been feeling the pain in any other part of my body for any other reason, I would have called an ambulance or headed to the nearest emergency room. As it was period pain, I allowed myself to continue suffering because I learned very early on that period pain was funny at best, inconvenient at worst and nothing to fuss about.

Women’s problems… that time of the month… period pain… shhhhhh…

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The medical term used for period pain is dysmenorrhoea and according to Women’s Health Concern, 80 percent of women suffer from it at some stage in their lives. Cramps are just one of the ways in which women on their period suffer. There’s also all-over bloating, tender breasts, swollen stomach, mood swings, trouble concentrating and fatigue.

There has been almost no progress when it comes to understanding the causes of period pain and no new treatments to decrease the associated pain. That’s because medical issues associated with “that time of the month” are dismissed by so many doctors.

POSSIBLE CAUSES OF PERIOD PAIN:

Uterine cramps;

Decrease of blood supply to the womb;

Stress and anxiety;

Endometriosis or fibroids;

Intrauterine devices (IUDs);

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

I asked the women at Mamamia Women’s Network to describe their worst period pain:

Like there’s a knife being constantly twisted around in my lower stomach. I also get it in my upper legs which is weird but some days I can barely move. To ease the pain, I take these muscle relaxing tablets and/or pop a hot water bottle on my stomach. Laura, 22.

Weirdly, I never used to get it and in the past year I’ve suddenly developed it. I basically feel like I’ve been kicked in the crotch and the ache is coming up into my stomach. (I have also seen it described as a similar feeling to having gastro, which isn’t inaccurate either). Anon, 27.

It was like birth contractions. I used to have it so badly when I was a teenager that I remember once just lying in the middle of the footpath. A bus driver stopped his bus to see if I was okay. Going on the pill was the best thing ever. I wish my mum had put me on it when I was 13 or 14. Anon, 46.

In a recent installment of MM Confessions we asked women to describe the state of their “lady gardens”. Article continues after this video.

I couldn’t sit an HSC exam because of period pain. Only the other week it was so bad that I fainted and had to work from home. I remember countless times having to be picked up from school in tears and just curing up in a ball in my room and nothing helped. To date it’s probably the worst pain I’ve experienced especially because of the nausea/dizziness that comes with it. I’ve slipped a spinal disc and broken bones etc. and would prefer those over period pain any day! Jessie, 25.

I used to get period pain so awful that I would have diarrhoea and then have to turn around and vomit straight after. The pain was excruciating and I remember as a 14-year-old lying in bed moaning for most of the night. Stabbing pains also took my breath away. I didn’t really do much to solve it. I had no idea what to do. The pill helped. Luckily it’s calmed down now. Anon, 28.

It felt like my uterus was going to fall out. Anon, 25.

Olivia Goldhill of digital news outlet Quartz has called attention to the issue, asking members of the medical profession why the problem of period pain isn’t being given the attention it deserves.

“Dysmenorrhea, the clinical term for painful menstruation, interferes with the daily life of around one in five women, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians,” she writes. “And yet there’s remarkably little research into the condition, say experts, and too many doctors are dismissive when presented with the symptoms.”

TREATMENTS FOR PERIOD PAIN:

Heating pad or hot water bottle to lower abdominal area;

Light massages to lower belly;

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen;

B6, calcium and magnesium supplements;

A warm bath or shower;

The pill.

John Giullebaud, professor of reproductive health at the University College London, told Quartz that menstrual cramping can be as “bad as having a heart attack,” and he is absolutely correct.

Goldhill says her period pain became so severe she thought she’d slipped a disc. She started visiting doctors who ruled that out and suggested nerve inflammation. Her suggestions it was period pain were dismissed.

It is not known why some women suffer more than others. The only treatments available are pain relievers and the pill and while some research has been done into the use of Viagra to treat it, more examination is needed before it can be recommended to suffers.

What needs to happen now is that women who suffer from period pain need to stop suffering in silence. If we start seeking treatment in droves, writing about it, discussing it, championing it then our complaints cannot be ignored.

“We need to talk about it on Oprah and national TV, “Richard Legro, M.D. of Penn State College of Medicine, told Quartz. “This is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a common disorder, and it shouldn’t be ignored.”

Describe your period pain at its worst. How do you normally treat it?

Sources: Quartz, Women’s Health Concern, NLM. 

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