Let’s talk about sex.
I’m kidding. Let’s talk about the other topic that everyone is afraid of: menstruation. Ah yes, your period. Blossoming womanhood, birds chirping in the morning, the light beaming towards the heavens with hope, young talented women somersaulting in the background as your mother tells you everything will be alright while you squeeze the blue liquid out of your body is exactly how every tampon and pad commercial sells you their products.
I guess it’s because if they talked about cramps, bloating, sweating, mood swings, diarrhea and/or constipation at the same time, exhaustion, tender breasts, muscle aches, acne, joint pain, headaches, the loss of the will to live, and the NEED for chocolate (desire implies we have a form of control over the situation), then their commercials might not sell as well. Or appease the male gaze, but that’s an entirely different article.
The thing is, those are just normal symptoms. Some women experience extreme exhaustion, vomiting, nausea, and cramps so bad they physically cannot move from the pain.
That was me. I was one of those women. For a very long time I just simply assumed I was crazy and doomed to a life of pain because of my period. My menstrual cycle has always been bad. Ever since my second period, I would lie either on the sofa/bed/floor/weird stair that held my body in a way in the fetal position in hopes of that lessened the cramp and sit in intense pain for hours on end. It made me unable to move, unable to think, and I knew that week was going to be an utter disaster. I had extreme mood swings, would lash out at anyone who said something even slightly derogatory, and was generally an anxiety ball of pain. The bonus side to it was that from the times I would sit at home and do absolutely nothing for hours on the couch, I gained a massive knowledge of SpongeBob and serial killers.
I went to a bunch of doctors during my teenage years, and they would all tell me things like either I needed to suck it up, I had bad genetics, I needed to take medication the week before, and other general nonsense that someone tells you when they don’t believe you have an actual problem. All of my doctors had theories, some would say it was because I was overweight, I didn’t work out enough, some would say I wasn’t drinking enough water, that I needed to eat healthier, that I might have anemia, and other things too, or just bad genes. It was an ongoing routine for years where I just felt that this was my normal.
During my senior year of college, however, my pain was worsening to the point of intolerable, and I just didn’t bother going to class during those times. Then one random day, as these things usually go, a friend and I were discussing how she came about her diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome, also known as PCOS or PCOD. When she described her symptoms to me, everything just clicked. For the first time in my life, I felt that there was finally an answer out there.
So I am writing this article because it took several months for me to be diagnosed with Polycystic ovarian syndrome, so I am hoping by writing this I open the door for other women to get diagnosed or at least not give up on yelling at doctors who don’t seem to care about the real pain they are experiencing.
I am aware that with one search of a button any woman can find this information on the internet. But I am still writing about these disorders for the women out there, like me, who had never thought to look, who had been constantly told that they were just dealt with “bad genes,” or who did not get enough of an education around women’s health due to their to their school/community/whatever reason.
So here are some of the common disorders associated with your period that affect more women than you think:
Polycystic Ovary/Ovarian Syndrome
There’s no really clear reasons or consensus on why women develop Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, mostly cause research on the disorder is relatively new. However, most women start exhibiting signs of PCOS after their first menstrual cycle. The signs and symptoms that affect women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome include:
- Irregular periods: this can range from infrequent or prolonged menstrual cycles, such as having fewer than nine periods a year, long distances between cycles, short times between cycles, and having an extremely heavy blood flow during your period. Oftentimes it is the most common sign of PCOS.
- Excess androgen: Or having elevated levels of male hormones such as testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone. Physical signs of excess androgens can include excess facial and body hair, severe acne, and male-pattern baldness.
- Polycystic Ovaries: Your ovaries might be enlarged and you might develop cysts on your ovaries, which might make them fail to function regularly.
Complications from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can include: Infertility, gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, miscarriage or premature birth, liver inflammation caused by fat accumulation in the liver, Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety and eating disorders, abnormal uterine bleeding, cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer).
According to the Women’s Health of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It affects 11% of American women and is becomes much more prominent for women in their 30s and 40s, making it harder for pregnancy. Signs and symptoms of Endometriosis include:
- Painful periods(dysmenorrhea): Pelvic pain and cramping starts even before getting your period, and continues to increase in pain and intensity several days into the menstrual cycle. This also may include heavy menstrual periods or bleeding between periods.
- Pain during sex: Pain during or after sex is a very common sign of endometriosis.
- Pain with bowel movement or urination during your menstrual cycle.
- Infertility: oftentimes one of the reasons why many women get diagnosed with endometriosis in the first place is because they are trying to seek treatment for infertility.
- Other signs include: During your period you may also be experiencing fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or nausea.
Complications from endometriosis include infertility and possibly cervix cancer.
PMDD or (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) is essentially the more severe form of PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome). PMDD symptoms start a week or two before your period and usually end a day or two after, and the most common symptoms are severe depression, anxiety, irritability, and tension. Other signs of PMDD include:
- Cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, muscle aches
- Panic attacks
- Extreme mood swings
- Lasting irritability or anger
- Food cravings or binge eating
- Having trouble with focusing and thinking
- Lack of interest in daily activities.
Doctors will often prescribe anti-depressants or birth control as forms of treatment.
These are the most common disorders I found associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle. If there are more period related disorders or health problems that I have not covered, please feel free to share in the comments! (If there are a lot more that I did not cover and people find this helpful, I might do another article on the subject).