It's Time to Take Painful Menstruation Seriously

When Lauren* began to suffer from extreme menstrual cramping in one of her high school classes, she approached her teacher to ask to be excused to the nurse. “It’s just your period, everyone gets one,” her teacher told her. She was sent back to her seat where she spent the next forty-five minutes with her hands clenched in pain. “It was like being stabbed,” she told Her Campus American in an email. “But, my teacher thought it was normal and wouldn’t help me.”

Unfortunately, for Lauren, painful menstruation, or dysmenorrhea, is common and debilitating. In 2012, in one of the most recent studies on the matter, the Journal of Pain Research reported that “1 in 4 women**” experience such distressing menstrual pain that they require medication and it disrupts their daily life.

Meanwhile, such as in Lauren’s case, this type of pain is often not taken seriously. In 2016, the National Institutes of Health published a report on the “many girls and women**” who experience painful menstruation. The report stated that “sometimes friends, relatives, colleagues and even doctors do not take period pain seriously” at first. It takes time before they are encouraged to seek help.

For trans and non-binary individuals who menstruate, period pain is often overlooked even further. Trans writer Zoyander Street explained in The Daily Beast that they waited over 10 years to get adequate care for their painful periods. On top of that, trans and non-binary people often face discrimination from their doctors, their insurance companies, and more. Street writes, “trans people face huge barriers to getting good health care. These include problems arising from insurance companies and state health systems that make it difficult or impossible for a man to receive anatomy-appropriate sexual health care if he has a womb and cervix.”

In 2010, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce reported that 19% of transgender and non-gender conforming people were denied care due to their transgender status, while 28% experienced harassment in a medical setting and 50% had to educate their medical providers on transgender care.

For cisgender women, pain can also be overlooked under a variety of circumstances due to continued bias in the medical field. In 2015, The Atlantic published an article in which writer Joe Fassler told of his wife’s serious ovarian cyst rupture. In the article, he asserts that his wife’s care took a long time as nurses and doctors failed to take her seriously. He writes, “nationwide, men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing.” Eventually, his wife, Rachel, received a surgery to remove her ovary, over 14 hours after being admitted into the hospital.

There May be an Underlying Issue

While in many cases, period pain is unrelated to another condition, it can sometimes signal something more serious. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are two kinds of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary is when the pain is simply caused by muscle contractions where it’s unclear why it’s more painful in some people than others. Secondary dysmenorrhea is when the pain is caused by another underlying issue.

The National Institutes of Health writes that this could be caused by fibroids, endometriosis or ovarian cysts. Painful periods can also be triggered by birth control methods or other health concerns. For Lindsay*, getting her IUD was the cause of painful periods. Despite never having had painful periods prior to getting her IUD, she wrote in an email to Her Campus American, “Now I sometimes have cramps up to one week before my period begins and will occasionally need to lie down to deal with cramps. I find your classic heating pad works better than anything else, but I still have the occasional bad day where the cramps distract me from work and the pain makes me irritable and less cheerful. I recently took a break while walking home from the grocery store.”

For AU senior Sara, painful periods are linked to her recovery from an eating disorder. Since going into recovery and regaining her period, she wrote in an email to Her Campus American that they can often be unpredictable, “leading to an immense amount of bloating that's not only physically incredibly uncomfortable but also emotionally trying for someone who constantly struggles to love her body. Each month is another test of my recovery, a stress on my mental and physical health.”

It’s important to recognize that painful menstruation can sometimes signal an underlying health issue. If not, it can be an impediment upon the daily lives of those who menstruate, meaning it should be taken seriously. There is a lack of medical attention given to all those who menstruate painfully. The need to recognize, research, and offer treatment for painful periods is pressing. The time is now to take period pain seriously.

 

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*Names changed

**The study uses the words “women” and “girls” to denote people who menstruate, but it’s important to note that women aren’t the only people who menstruate nor do all women menstruate.