What Is Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for menstrual cramps. It encompasses the sheer pain in our pelvis, abdomen and thighs, and the accompanying nausea and diarrhoea we may have. Fainting, fatigue, dizziness and disorientation may further join the above symptoms in a party of pain unleashed upon us. Primary dysmenorrhea occurs without an underlying cause, and secondary dysmenorrhea occurs with an underlying cause, most notably endometriosis. It can also be more likely if your period began before the age of 12, if you have low body weight, or have heavy or irregular periods.
Some women are blessed to go without any or minimal period pains and others are at the polar opposite of the spectrum where this time of the month brings bouts of vomiting, mind numbing pain and days spent with the duvet and hot water bottle in bed. There is no doubt in my mind that if even a small fraction of men experienced this pain, research in this area would accelerate as fast as Usain Bolt does on the track.
How I Have Dealt With It
Since the age of 10, I have had to be prepared with sick buckets, diarolyte packs to replace the nutrients I’ve lost, instant mash potato because I can’t stomach much else and strong painkillers. I had to miss days off from school, leave work early and miss social outings as a result. Many other women unfortunately have a similar monthly routine.
As I got older, I tried to take more control by going on a variety of NSAID pills to control the pain which didn’t feel strong enough and then the contraceptive pill to regulate the pain, much like many women do. While this had helped a little and eased the intensity of the pain, it drew it out over more days. Now the puking is no longer a regular fixture. It lessened as I got older although there was one year I was puking and shaking a lot and I assume it was somehow linked to my appendix, because it mostly stopped after an appendectomy. Our bodies can be peculiar like that.
After a year, I decided to stop taking the contraceptive pill, because it didn’t feel like it was the best method for me. The intensity of the pain has gone up again, but I am attempting to find other methods that can help in the long term. Primrose oil capsules, regular exercise and an iron rich diet are all said to lesson dysmenorrhea so these are the techniques I am trying. The hot water bottle comes out every month and I am lucky my wonderful mum offers to massage my aching back and legs when I am writhing in pain.
I still need the duvet days and it can feel I am missing out on life by having to schedule in these sick days I know will occur. I have chosen to try to see the positive and relish in these sick days a little by watching a movie in bed, or indulging in pizza and chocolate if my body allows and catching up on this paradoxical rest. Whilst it doesn’t necessarily take the pain away, at least I know I am dealing with it the best I can by allowing my body to relax.
Does Being Indian Affect It?
Being Indian means that as a kid, my dad was not always told of the reason that caused my never ending pain, so naturally he worried. As I got older, I explained it was due to my period and he gradually got used to it, although he still gets concerned even now as I don’t think he realises just how common it is and difficult to resolve. In my culture, discussing your period is seen as taboo, so if I miss a family function because of it, my female relatives may be told the real reason, but my male ones will be fed the more palatable version that I am simply unwell. Unless I directly tell them because I have no shame and feel they should be educated on the matter.
The secretive nature of this can mean women feel shame around their period and don’t feel like they can freely vocalise their pain (although that’s a whole other rant for another day). For some Indian’s, they may feel the need to hide the contraceptive pill from their families if they don’t understand it is used to regulate their period pains, as pre-marital sex and therefore taking the pill before marriage can also be seen as taboo. Who doesn’t love a double whammy of being pressured into hiding things like this?
Whilst so many females undergo this pain, there are still few options available for the pain as the contraceptive pill and pain killers do not always help women with this immense agony. Its efficacy can be great for some, but these are the same solutions that have been offered for decades. Period pains are normalised as something we should just get used to when this attitude isn’t seen for other conditions. It is important scientific research can develop in this field and that we are vocal about its impact on our lives, as it can affect work and therefore the economy, our social life and influence our overall wellbeing.