Skip to main content

18th September 2019

There might be more to your painful period

Reinforcing that periods are painful can be damaging as this can be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as endometriosis, which can cause a delayed diagnosis writes Aisha Al-Janabi
There might be more to your painful period
Tampon photo: The Period Blog @wikimedia commons

From as early as primary school, I came to expect and accept that I would grow up to experience period cramps, and that having a period would be painful.

Because we’re taught that having a womb and a vagina means pain is just part of being born this sex, excessive amounts of pain are often ignored. The message seems to be – don’t complain, take a painkiller, grow a pair of balls, and get on with it. It feels as if carrying around painkillers is as normal as carrying around chewing gum in your bag.

I fear that the normalisation of period pain means that those who endure very painful periods don’t question it. Who judges when a painful period becomes a very painful period? We’re not given the tools to assess the difference, instead relying on our own individual pain thresholds.

Very painful periods can be a symptom of several conditions including endometriosis, which I first learned about on social media. According to the NHS, endometriosis is a condition where the cells that grow on the womb lining grow elsewhere and shed in a similar manner, causing extreme pain. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to, pain during or after sex or feeling constipated during your period.

Dysmenorrhea is the name given to extremely painful periods of which there are two types. Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by cramping due to periods. On the other hand, secondary dysmenorrhea is a result of other problems, like endometriosis. The problem is, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

Endometriosis-UK highlights that it takes seven-and-a-half years on average for endometriosis to be diagnosed, in part because the symptoms are easily dismissed as typical for those menstruating both by medical professionals and those experiencing them. If we stop reinforcing the idea that we need to accept our painful periods and instead emphasise the fact that there is such a thing as too much pain, hopefully doctors and those menstruating will diagnose and recognise these conditions sooner.

The narrative needs to be changed so that women’s experiences are taken seriously, instead of potential symptoms being brushed aside as primary dysmenorrhea. This is made all the more frustrating when the dismissal is handed out by male medical professionals who have no experience of any amount of cramping, or what other period symptoms feel like.

Of course, a diagnosis is always the ideal outcome. However, it is important to acknowledge that this isn’t always possible. Sometimes the cause of extreme pain might just be your menstrual cycle but that doesn’t mean that concerns should be cast aside, leaving you feeling ignored and uncared for.

So, let’s stop telling each other that all period pain is normal! After all, we are still expected to go about our normal daily life with a (gentle) clawing in our uterus and never complain about it. If we can open a discussion about menstrual experiences, this will provide comfort as well as increased awareness about conditions such as endometriosis.

More Coverage

Houseplant heaven: The best plants to brighten up your student home

With the RHS Urban Show coming to Manchester, we’ve found some of the best houseplants to enhance your student accommodation

Why is everybody obsessed with minimalism?

The minimalist way of life is everywhere – what can we learn when its meaning is so often repackaged as another consumer trend?

How to have a routine when you have so few contact hours

If you find yourself with few in-person contact hours and facing challenges in establishing a routine, here are some tips to enhance your daily productivity

Springleaf Podcast: James Acaster’s new audio adventure

We discuss Springleaf Podcast, the new audio sitcom created by the much loved British stand-up comic James Acaster.