March 14, 2009
Period pain should not be a fact of life, says Michael Dooley, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Dorset County Hospital, Dorchester
Just because period pain is so common doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. You and your doctors should try to find a diagnosis. It may be treatable, and even if it remains mysterious – as it does in most cases – then you’ve ruled out some potentially serious conditions.
Severe period pain – bad enough to interfere with your life – can be caused by endometriosis (cells from the womb lining growing on other organs), fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease (often caused by chlamydia infection), adenomyosis (womb tissue begins to grow in surrounding muscle), or other treatable conditions.
So it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. They will consider investigating the cause – taking swabs to look for infection, possibly arranging a scan, or referring you to hospital for a laparoscopy (keyhole investigation). The reason that endometriosis takes, on average, seven years to diagnose is that doctors don’t investigate early enough.
Sometimes it helps patients to think of the lining of the womb as a lawn. The lawn needs sun and rain to grow – those are the hormones progesterone and oestrogen, levels of which rise and fall during the menstrual cycle. When you have a period, you shed your womb lining – that’s your lawn’s monthly cut and it can cause pain.
If you’re trying to reduce period pain, my advice would be to take painkillers (unless you’ve been told otherwise by a doctor) – but don’t wait until the pain hits. If you’re fairly regular, and you know when your period should begin, start taking paracetamol or ibuprofen a day or two beforehand, so that the pain is well controlled from the outset. If you know you’re about to start banging your head against a brick wall, isn’t it sensible to put on a crash helmet?
Understanding how to live with the hormonal fluctuations will ease a great deal of menstrual pain. However, in extreme cases it is best to consult your physician. For those of you with minor menstrual pain – please see Female Mystique – The Three Phases of Eve posted on the banner on this site.