I still clearly remember the viral tweet at the end of 2018 that was a real eye-opener for me. ” It’s so disgusting the way some girls complain about period pain on social media. ” As many as 440,000 women from around the world were rightly outraged, truly hilarious… and they spared no details. “So recognizable; apparently, we all have a story like this!” I thought. Yet, most of the time, we’re still not used to publicly discussing the pain, bloating, and mood swings that come with periods and how all of that can make our lives so much more uncomfortable.
An average woman spends about 3,000 days of her life menstruating – that’s over 8 years of her life! The uterus’ monthly bleeding and contraction are necessary to shed its thickened lining when no fertilized egg is attached. While this causes little pain in some women, more than half of women sometimes experience painful cramps, according to a large study by the American Association of Gynecologists.
Our own Isala survey also shows that no fewer than 89% of women in Belgium sometimes or always experience pain during their monthly bleeding.
The impact of periods on women’s performance (at home, at work, social, academic, etc.) are often swept under the rug and remains grossly underestimated. A study in the Netherlands with almost 43,000 women has shown that 38% of all women could not fully perform their normal daily activities during menstruation. Pain and/or cramps were reported by 85% of the women, and psychological complaints and fatigue in 77%. These figures are therefore very similar to the results of our Isala survey. Academic achievement can also be negatively impacted: medical students reported that menstruation affected their study time (76%), concentration (66%), group activities (58%), exam performance (52%), and attendance at, for example, classes and lectures (41%). A BBC survey also found that more than half of female workers had period pain that affected their job performance. It is also striking that in the Dutch study mentioned above, only 20% of the women suffering from menstrual pain had taken sick leave and disclosed the reason to their boss. More than half remained vague or indicated a non-specific symptom.
The physical complaints during menstruation have a scientific name – “dysmenorrhea.” In dysmenorrhea, the pain centers in the abdomen, the back, and the legs, and sometimes you can feel it all over the body. This should not necessarily be associated with any disease or condition: it is also common in healthy women. However, certain abnormalities can cause extra menstrual pain, such as endometriosis (a condition in which tissue normally only occurs on the inside of the uterus is also present on the outside) and fibroids/myomas (benign growths in the uterine wall). Hypermenorrhea (too much blood loss) and polymenorrhea (having your periods more often than normal) can also cause discomfort. You can also suffer from mental complaints just before menstruation, also known as “Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).”
Due to the taboos surrounding menstruation, girls and women often feel the need to be secretive about it. As a result, menstrual problems are often discussed too late. If period pain affects your personal or work life, be sure to make an appointment with your gynecologist or family doctor. Often menstrual pain and PMS can be treated with suitable contraceptive pills or anti-inflammatory drugs.