Being a woman should not mean being in pain
By Harriet Argent
Having extremely painful periods is not normal and can be a sign of endometriosis, but according to recent research, 62% of women aged 16-54 will put off going to a Doctor about their painful periods because they believe it is not serious enough.
When women do finally consult a doctor, they could wait an average of 7.5 years before receiving a firm diagnosis.
It was endometriosis awareness month in March, so here are the stories of three women living with the condition who want you to know that debilitating menstrual pain is a sign of a bigger problem, and you should take it seriously.
Talking about your pain can help you understand if it is normal or not
Stephanie Leech first consulted doctors at 15 after she got fired from her Saturday job because intense menstrual pain caused her to miss a shift. She had never felt that kind of pain before, but it would continue for the rest of her adult life.
Stephanie thinks there needs to be more Endometriosis specialists in the NHS.
“I went for blood tests, and then I was just put on the pill which, at the age of 15, is quite a big thing,” she said, “I had no prior history of sickness or anything, so it just wasn’t taken seriously.”
Stephanie spent the next ten years going from doctor to doctor without getting any solutions, and it made her begin to doubt the severity of her pain.
Finally, after going private in 2019, she was diagnosed with endometriosis.
Stephanie believes if she had more education about women’s menstrual health and if more people talked openly about their periods, she would have taken her pain more seriously.
“It took me years to realise that what I was feeling wasn't normal,” she said, “women are born thinking that we are to go through pain and that we just have to suck it up because it’s part of being a woman, but it’s not!”
For Stephanie, talking about her painful periods with others helped her understand that it wasn’t normal to suffer in this way, and she needed to push GP's for a diagnosis.
"Women are born thinking that we are to go through pain and that we just have to suck it up because it’s part of being a woman, but it’s not”
“People don’t like to talk about it. Even girls don’t really talk about their periods,” she said, “I think it’s so important that everybody learns about menstrual health because I think that’s what has led endometriosis to be under resourced in terms of research.”
Doctors don’t always know what is best, and you need to trust your body
It took Faye Cox seven years to get her diagnosis. She found out she had endometriosis 18 months ago after doctors wrongly told her she was in perimenopause and put her on HRT, unnecessarily, for three years.
“Every time I went to a GP with this pain, I was sent for blood tests and scans, but nothing was ever followed up,” she said, “I was just left.”
Faye's symptoms got worse a year before her diagnosis, and the pain got so bad that at one point, her body started to shut down, and she was rushed to hospital.
“I never in my life have wanted to knock myself unconscious before, but I did then. I took enough painkillers that I knew I would be knocked out for a while,” she said, “that’s quite a scary place for a 45-year-old woman with young children to be.”
Even though she was displaying the classic symptoms of the condition, Faye said none of the GP's she saw even mentioned the word endometriosis, so, like a lot of women, Faye went private to get her diagnosis.
“You get to a point where you think, well, maybe this is normal and just how it's meant to be. I've trusted the professionals, and this is what they are saying,” she said, “but women need to stand up for themselves on these kinds of issues.”
Faye said she thinks society has taught women to play the martyr card very well and, from an early age, women are conditioned to deal with pain, but it shouldn’t be that way.
“We need to become more in tune with ourselves both physically and mentally,” she said, “we need to start trusting our gut feeling and intuition on these things because it's never wrong.
“If it doesn't feel right, nine times out of 10, it's not right.”
Your period should not be debilitatingly painful and it's okay to ask for help
Charlotte Camp is one of the few people who got their diagnosis within five years of having symptoms, but that was only because her mother was a gynaecologist nurse who pushed doctors to give her daughter a proper diagnosis.
Charlotte first had symptoms when she started her period at 14, and at first, consultants dismissed her as being “too young” to have the condition, but Charlotte pushed doctors for a laparoscopy and was diagnosed with endometriosis at 17.
“I think because I was so young, they brushed it off and I was just left to it,” she said, “I had never heard of the condition and I didn’t even know where it was or how severe it was. I was just told it was endometriosis, and it was on my left side, and that was it.”
During her teenage years, the pain got so bad that it had an effect on her mental health, and Charlotte started self-harming. She hopes that by talking about the condition and getting women to take their pain seriously, other people won’t have to suffer as she has.
“I think there's a stigma around periods that they have to be painful, so you have just got to get on with it,” she said, “but they shouldn’t be that painful, it isn't normal, and you need to get some help for it.”
Charlotte’s advice for anyone who is doubting the severity of their pain is to keep pushing and remember that it is okay to admit vulnerability.
“I think there's a stigma around periods that they have to be painful, so you have just got to get on with it."
“Everyone’s pain is valid, and you're not a hypochondriac,” she said, “even if you get a ‘normal’ period without endometriosis, you shouldn't have to feel like you can't take that time to rest because it can still be draining.”
If you are concerned about any pain connected to your period, consult a doctor. See the Endometriosis UK website for more information about the condition