“It’s just part of being a woman,” my patient’s grandmother told her, “the curse of Eve.” My patient looked down as she told her story of menstrual pain and bleeding so heavy that she ruined her clothes and had to stay home from school.
No. It’s not normal.
Menstrual pain and/or bleeding that limits your life is not normal—you need a diagnosis of what is wrong. It could be endometriosis, a bleeding disorder, a bladder problem, chronic muscle/tissue pain, or something else.
Data from Harvard University shows that 98% of adolescents with chronic pelvic pain have endometriosis. For the 176 million women worldwide whosuffer from endometriosis, this data provides a strange form of relief and recognition. They aren’t just complaining, whining, women and teenagers who can’t handle their menstrual period. They are sick, and they need treatment.
Other research shows that one in five women with heavy bleeding during their periods actually has an underlying bleeding disorder that needs to be diagnosed and treated appropriately.
Do you answer “yes” to any of the below questions? If so, you need a medical evaluation (If you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor anyway):
- Have you missed school or work due to your period?
- Are you curled up in a ball with pain during your cramps?
- Have you been on birth control pills/hormonal therapy to control your pain and it didn’t get better?
- Do you need to take narcotics for pain during your period?
- Have you gone to the ER for menstrual pain or bleeding?
- Do you have a family history of severe menstrual pain and/or bleeding?
- Do you have a family history of endometriosis or a bleeding disorder?
Between 25 to 65 percent of women with endometriosis have fertility problems. Approximately 5 million U.S. teenagers are affected by the condition. In other words, pretty much all of us moms know some teen or young adult out there who has endometriosis and needs it treated to prevent infertility. We also know that hormonal contraceptives can mask the symptoms of endometriosis, but don’t effectively decrease the infertility associated with endometriosis.
The good news is that new treatments are available, depending on your diagnosis. For endometriosis, there is laser excision. Laser excision, compared to ablation therapy, can have a lower risk of recurrence of endometriosis. Early treatment of endometriosis is the best way to preserve fertility. Bleeding disorders can be diagnosed with specialized blood tests, which have changed dramatically in the last decade. Treatment can then be tailored to the specific type of bleeding disorder. If your diagnosis is muscle or tissue pain, physical therapy can bring dramatic relief to pelvic pain. Padhma Lakshmi is an Indian-born American author, actress, model and television host, who knows the pain of endometriosis first hand. After years of “killer cramps” she thought were normal, she was diagnosed with endometriosis, successfully treated, and had a baby. She co-founded The Endometriosis Foundation of America, which is a nonprofit organization focused on increasing awareness, education, research, and legislative advocacy against the disease. You can help spread her message, “Killer Cramps are NOT normal,” by sharing this poster.