When it comes to period pain, women are often told to suck it up.
“It’s just something that you have to put up with.”
“Pop a couple of Panadol and get on with it.”
“Go buy a tub of chocolate ice-cream.”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“Use a heat pack and you’ll be fixed in no time.”
Unfortunately, perceptions of period pain such as these often lead to a serious medical condition going undiagnosed.
Endometriosis is a disease where tissue, which should be found inside the uterus, grows outside of it (where it is absolutely not meant to be). This can cause a range of debilitating symptoms, including severe period pain that does not respond to medication, heavy bleeding, exhaustion, and depression. The Global Study of Women’s Health found that women suffering from endometriosis can lose as many as 11 hours a week while they attempt to cope with their symptoms. It can also result in infertility. With symptoms like these, you would assume that women experiencing them would head straight for their GP to get to the root of the problem. However, this is not the case.
For many women, endometriosis can go undiagnosed for years, despite these painful symptoms. Medicine Today reports that the average delay for a diagnosis is eight to 12 years – a shocking statistic considering that one in 10 women are affected by the disease. This delay is largely due to a lack of social awareness of endometriosis, and the fact that period pain is frequently dismissed as ‘just part of being a woman’.
However, there is a huge difference between putting up with slight period pain that can be alleviated by Panadol, and intense pain that doesn’t go away no matter how many different types of anti-inflammatories you try. It’s one thing to feel slightly uncomfortable during your period, and another to have to call in sick because you’re curled up on the couch, not even able to concentrate on Friends reruns. The fact that women are putting up with such horrible symptoms just because they’ve been taught to grin and bear it, needs to change.
Doctors should refer women affected by endometriosis to specialists instead of dismissing these symptoms as typical period pain and nonchalantly telling them to stop worrying so much, exercise more or adjust their diet. Families and friends should take the concerns of the women in their lives seriously. And if you’re a woman who suspects that something is amiss, trust your instincts and make an appointment with your doctor. And if they’re no help, keep going until you find a doctor who is.
Endometriosis is a condition that should be taken as seriously as diabetes or asthma or any other kind of chronic illness. Overlooking the severity of endometriosis means thousands of women are suffering when they could be receiving treatment and leading fuller, happier lives.
Art: Amandine Le Bellec