Image: New Girl, FOX.
Within minutes of the pain beginning, I was unable to stand. I suddenly had no choice but to sit down where I was – costume shopping in Target. My body furiously convulsed and forced me to throw up before I could find the strength to get to a bathroom.
To convince the insistent staff and customers that no, I didn’t need an ambulance, I had to drag myself out of the store onto Bourke Street. There I continued to vomit before passing out on the curb. Yes, even as a germ-o-phobe, I was so desperate to curl up and close my eyes that I did so on the filthy streets of the CBD.
I knew that I didn’t need medical assistance. I was all too used to my body surprising me whenever my time of the month was near. It usually followed a similar pattern – trembling, vomiting, then falling asleep to escape the pain. I could just never tell when it was coming.
Do you know the symptoms of endometriosis? (Post continues below.)
I was scared that these extreme symptoms meant I had one of those pelvic conditions that can jeopardise fertility. Other people get period pain too, but the extent that I experienced didn’t seem to be ‘normal’. An off-duty paramedic who saw me on the street even asked me, “Have you been checked for endometriosis or something like that? Are you sure you don’t have anything?”
I saw an obstetrician who ruled out pelvic diseases. Fortunately, I didn’t have a condition that would affect my fertility. The bad news: the pain I was experiencing can be more painful than other conditions.
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful menstruation. Secondary dysmenorrhea refers to pain that results from a diagnosable condition, such as endometriosis. We don’t hear about it as much, but the pain that the rest of us suffer from in the absence of any visible pelvic pathology is Primary Dysmenorrhea.
Serena. Image: Supplied.
There are times I've heard people pass it off as, "oh, period pain, almost everyone gets that," or "it’s part of being a woman, suck it up,". But for some of us it can be a serious issue.
The reason that primary dysmenorrhea plagues some women more than others is yet to be identified.
“It is not known why some women experience more severe primary dysmenorrhea; some women may have higher levels of pain inducing chemicals called prostaglandins,” explains Dr Kevin Cheng, Medibank Medical Director.
Cementing its position as an illness we don’t often speak about, national statistics are not available for how it affects women in Australia.
However, a Department of Public Health and University of Western Australia study of Year 11 and 12 girls found that 80 per cent reported prevalence of dysmenorrhea, and 53 per cent said it limited their activities. (Post continues after gallery.)
I’ve experienced firsthand that while ‘everyone gets periods’ the symptoms can be debilitating, distressing, embarrassing, and incredibly inconvenient.
So how can they be treated?
According to Dr Cheng preventative measures do not yet exist for primary dysmenorrhea.
“However, studies show that it often gets better as you get older. Many females also find they experience less painful periods after having a child,” he says.
It’s hope for the future, but it doesn’t help me now. Luckily, there are ways to treat the symptoms.
When I met with the obstetrician he explained that some women have surgery to cut the nerves connected to the uterus to relieve this pain. (Yes, it’s actually a thing – ‘Presacral Neurectomy’.) Fortunately, with modern medicine there are much easier ways to try to deal with this pain initially.
“You can treat it with a number of over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatories such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. However, these medications, if used for a prolonged time, can cause side effects,” says Dr Cheng.
Dysmenorrhea can be extremely debilitating. Image: iStock.
Plus, these medications certainly don’t help everyone; my pain was resistant to them.
Contraceptive measures have also been known to help. The contraceptive pill has largely reduced my symptoms. It hasn’t solved them – but it means that paracetamol is now able to assist with the pain.
The best thing to do is to speak to your doctor about treatments. There are a variety of options that cater differently for individuals.
Yes, the pain is worth going to the doctor about if it is affecting your day-to-day life. Please don’t think it is just a problem that you have to deal with - it affects everyone differently and there are ways to manage it.
How do you deal with the pain?