Welcome to my health series: Period Blues
How it all started: The Poll
The Cleveland Clinic defines dysmenorrhea:
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for pain with menstruation. There are two types of dysmenorrhea: “primary” and “secondary”.
Primary dysmenorrhea is common menstrual cramps that are recurrent (come back) and are not due to other diseases. Pain usually begins 1 or 2 days before, or when menstrual bleeding starts, and is felt in the lower abdomen, back, or thighs. Pain can range from mild to severe, can typically last 12 to 72 hours, and can be accompanied by nausea-and-vomiting, fatigue, and even diarrhea. Common menstrual cramps usually become less painful as a woman ages and may stop entirely if the woman has a baby.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is pain that is caused by a disorder in the woman’s reproductive organs, such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids, or infection. Pain from secondary dysmenorrhea usually begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts longer than common menstrual cramps.
There are three mainstream options for dysmenorrhea treatment: Surgery, hormone treatment, or pain medication.
The scary thing is that surgery to laser out the cells is not guaranteed to decrease the pain. Seven women I have personally met with endometriosis had a surgery. Two were successful in removing endometriosis and they also had children. Five women learned that the procedure caused the condition to spread and led to more scarring. Unfortunately, they had more pain. Doctors do not guarantee the surgery works, in fact, they do state this very clearly when reviewing the options. What they don’t often say during these reviews is that it can get worse.
My main concern about surgery options for reproductive systems is that there’s little preparation for the weakness our abdominal muscles face after going beneath the scalpel. A special type of curated physical therapy that includes brain training should be available to all women after having an abdominal surgery. If one happens to have a bad experience with the anesthesia, this can put more trauma on that region. Diaphragm muscles are connected to the abdominal muscles and can traumatize the surgical sites as they struggle for air with the lungs. This neuro-therapy should be mandatory after all pelvic surgeries. We are advised to be incredibly cautious due to the risk of hernias, that has truth in it, but we often allow it to stop our mobility altogether and post-op patients move very little. The body thrives on mobility. Even though it might be painful, if you just move a bit every day once you’re ready and seek a professional to assist you with healing your core, you will be very far along.
Hormones are prescribed for every reproductive issue. Drugs like Lupron or the pill can make us feel worse in the long run, and side effects include death and depression. View a simplified chart about the impact of this pharmaceutical on the body. Read that recently a men’s birth-control option didn’t pass trials because it gave men the same side effects it gives women. If it’s not healthy and approved for use in males, should it be FDA approved for anyone?
With all the benefits these hormones claim to have the corner on, they still have a bigger impact on our quality of life that’s less than glamorous. (It’s important for me to note that I am not labeling hormones as a bad group of medicines, or as ineffective or dangerous killers, I am just stating that they are a band aid for the real cause of dysmenorrhea.) There are circumstances where specific hormones save lives: periods may cause life-threatening consequences (anemia), hormones can rescue those in kidney failure, and treat auto-immune diseases, thyroid disorders, they are used in trans-gender patients to great success. The focus of these articles is to discuss really improving our quality of life. Hormones aren’t one-size-fits all and I think their use is prohibiting advancements. I just found this surprising article written by physician, John T. Littell M.D.. It’s full of surprises that confirmed every suspicion I had that birth control is indeed over-prescribed but not for reasons I had even considered.
I am a feminist, and I am a liberal one. I am not at all against controlling women’s access to birth control. I support Planned Parenthood. I am Pro-choice. I was happy Obama’s Health Care Plan made it free or affordable to many. (Don’t forget that having it free also helps women who have partners that give them no other choice but to take it because they refuse to wear condoms or use another method). I admit to being a jaded by my experience with these products. But wanting to improve health care and change the world for the better is not the same as wanting to control people. That is not what this is about. I have found the other options to this hormone frenzy. After four years in chronic pain I have said never again to this option.
Again, I am not saying that we shouldn’t have birth control, I am commenting on its side-effects and the use of it as a band aid to mask or alter what the real issues are that cause these secondary conditions. What are we doing to discover the causes of these debilitating conditions? What can we do to prevent them for future generations?
Pain relief: I have two words to say about opiates: No way. Include these in your reasons to say no: constipation, dehydration, addiction and the impact on brain cognition and mood. I have three words to say about OTC pain relief for secondary dysmenorrhea: it rarely works. My only issue with medical marijuana and pain is that overuse can make us slower and sometimes lazier. And once again, movement is key to resolving a lot of the pain. If you find yourself self-medicating with medical-grade THC, try to find the balance of when you really need it to get through and when you are becoming dependent on it. If you find yourself taking it every night, go two weeks without it, it’s already helped your body to relax and start healing, so at this point you may find maintenance doses for pelvic pain are supporting you (and aren’t so expensive).
Here are some alternative options:
- Chinese Medicine: Herbs and Acupuncture
- Reflexology Massage
- Imaging to locate microscopic tears or pubic symphysis disorders: a chiropractor can gently realign the hips so that these old injuries have a chance to heal, then prescribe exercise focused on the sagittal plane, posture and walking
- Breaking down the pain receptors and creating new pathways in the brain
Sometimes, doctors seem to just stare at women like we’re fish in a bowl. They don’t know what to do because they’re unprepared. The preparation doctors have in medical school to address female reproductive pain is purported by John T. Littell M.D to be strictly hormone based. But we can do better together. Take a stand against a surgery unless you have a third opinion, ask for imaging, request a dietician or health coach, and always, always, say no to codeine and hydrocodone and all of the opiate affiliates. They do more long-term damage than they relieve, especially by creating addicts.
We need answers to what’s causing secondary dysmenorrhea, including but not limited to, endometriosis, fibroids, PCOS, adenomyosis, and anemia. Various studies have reported that physical illness or uncontrollable physical pain are major factors in up to 70% of suicides.