Period Pain is Not Normal
Written by Cinestie Olson
“…I had to go to school, so I got up and hopped in the shower. A minute or two later, still in the shower, I started to feel weird and started seeing black spots that were growing in my vision. Shampoo still in my hair, I screamed for my mom. She rushed to me, realizing something was wrong, and caught me as I lost consciousness in the shower. Period pain isn’t normal and it’s not okay.”
- Taylor, she/her, 21
As each period cycle comes around, we may feel bloated, have intense food cravings, or experience the ~infamous~ cramping. These symptoms can cause discomfort and inconvenience, but one thing they should never be is painful! March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. We want to highlight when period symptoms cross the line between discomfort and pain, as well as hear from women and menstruators about their journey with endometriosis.
What is Endometriosis?
During a typical period cycle, the uterine lining sheds and bleeds through the vagina. For menstruators who have endometriosis, that lining is outside the uterus rather than inside! Endometriosis can be found on ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladders, and other nearby organs. The lining will continue to thicken, break down, and bleed during your period, however, it has nowhere to exit. This can cause severe pelvic pain, cysts, inflammation, scar tissue, and adhesions (the kind of scar tissue that can bind your organs together!)
What are the Symptoms?
Though endometriosis varies from person to person, the most common symptom is extensive pain with your period. We’re not talking about the discomfort that normal period cramps may bring - endometriosis pain can show up a few days before your period, carry into your lower back, and be constant throughout your entire cycle.
“I realized my period pain wasn't normal during my second period. My mom and I were in the grocery store, and I went to use the bathroom and passed out from the pain.”
- Anonymous, she/her, 24
Other symptoms of endometriosis can be pain with sex or bowel movements, very heavy bleeding, and bleeding in between periods. If you suspect you may have endometriosis, contact your healthcare provider.
How Does Endometriosis Get Diagnosed?
On average, it can take up to 7 years for women and menstruators to have an official diagnosis of endometriosis (that feel’s long, doesn’t it??)! This is because there are many myths, misconceptions, and unawareness attached to endometriosis. There are many different ways to diagnose endometriosis:
- Pelvic exam. A doctor will look behind the uterus for cysts and scars.
- Ultrasounds. A doctor will do an internal ultrasound, using a wand-shaped scanner to look inside and outside the pelvic area for cysts.
- Medicine: If a doctor cannot find any signs of endometriosis, they may prescribe birth control to lessen pain.
- Laparoscopy. A surgery where a doctor will look in the pelvic area to find endometriosis tissue. This surgery can guarantee an official diagnosis of endometriosis!
Though there are ways to diagnose endometriosis, many menstruators have found to have a strenuous journey with diagnosis! Unfortunately, it’s pretty common to not be listened to regarding endometriosis and other gynecological disorders.
“Through a family friend, we booked an appointment with a local gynecologist who is ‘known’ for treating endometriosis. He pretty much immediately threw me on the pill and would just switch it to a different brand or dosage at every appointment when the previous one was doing nothing for my pain. Finally, at the age of 16 (over a year of trying different pills), my mom asked about an exploratory laparoscopy since endometriosis isn’t detectable on any test or scan. He was very against it because I had no family history and he said a girl my age wouldn’t have endometriosis. Instead, he suggested I was exaggerating and tried to say it was my anxiety. I had to beg for the surgery because it was my last option and my only hope at relief…
About six months later my mom booked me an appointment with another local gynecologist who spent his career specializing in fertility. He was the first doctor who truly listened to me and fought hard to stop my pain… He found dozens of spots of endometriosis around my pelvis and used a laser to burn them off. My endometriosis didn’t grow this much in just six months. My first doctor just didn’t believe I could have it, so he didn’t look hard enough. This time, I woke up from surgery with a weight lifted off my shoulders. I finally had a diagnosis.”
- Taylor, she/her, 21
P.S. If your doctor doesn’t believe your pain… get a new doctor.
There is unfortunately no cure for endometriosis at the moment - but there are ways to relieve the pain!
- Pain medication. Anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen can temporarily relieve endometriosis pain.
- Hormonal birth control. Birth control pills, rings, and patches may help control hormones responsible for building endometriosis each month.
- Surgery. If other options don’t ease endometriosis pain, a doctor may surgically remove endometriosis tissue! There are other surgical options, like a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), or a removal of the ovaries.
Our information is just based on research and stories of friends that have endometriosis. If you have any concerns, please consult with your doctor!
Office on Women’s Health