Big Issues

Why It’s So Important To Talk About Your Period

When we don't talk about our periods, we don't talk about endometriosis. And we need to.

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If you menstruate, you’ve probably had your tummy drop when you realise you’ve bled through your pants, or ruined some undies that you love. If you menstruate, you’ve probably had some fuckwit make a comment about your mood, and if you menstruate, you’ve definitely felt the long gremlin fingernails of period pain.

The shame that comes with periods has brought about a culture in the medical industry that fucking sucks. This culture has made extreme period pain a curse rather than a medical condition. One of these conditions is called endometriosis and statistically, it affects the same amount of the population as asthma, or diabetes, but with drastically lower diagnoses, successful treatment plans and awareness.

Since the Australian Government has decided to fund research into endometriosis this month, I’ve hooked up with Beck O’Hara, a PhD student at Monash Uni, who spends her days and nights (and mornings and evenings) researching how endo is managed socially in Australia. She also talks a lot about periods.

Uni Junkee: Hiya Beck! In plain words, what the fuck is endometriosis?

Beck O’Hara: Endometriosis is where tissue that is similar to the lining of the uterus is found in places outside of the uterus. This results in lesions, which can cause pain and inflammation.

What are the symptoms and warning signs of endometriosis?

Some common symptoms of endometriosis are: painful periods, pain with sexual intercourse and pelvic pain. Some individuals may also experience pain at times outside of their periods and bowel upset.

OK, so pain, bad sex and runny poos. Why does it go undiagnosed so much?

The gold standard for diagnosis of endometriosis is laparoscopy (which is keyhole surgery). We know from previous research that there are a couple of factors which may affect the time taken to obtain a diagnosis. The first is that someone may not present straight away to their health professional (this is often because pain with periods is considered normal by themselves or immediate support network). Once they present to a health professional there may be times where their period pain may be considered as normal, so seek a second opinion.

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So, why is there a still a stigma surrounding period related illness?

Socially, I think periods are not discussed openly and menstruation is still concealed.

What can we do to try and reduce that stigma?

If someone is experiencing problems with their menstrual cycle or pain that stops them doing their normal activities they should discuss it with their doctor. I think education programs in schools are useful to teach all students about periods so it becomes less stigmatised and so individuals can recognise any issues with their menstrual cycle. I think starting the conversation in families or amongst friends can assist with reducing the stigma about periods.

How can we spread awareness and open up more of a dialogue about periods and health?

I think there is a role for everyone to play in promoting awareness of periods and health. I think health professionals during routine appointments can ask individuals about their periods. People can support awareness programs for endometriosis and other health events, and advocacy organisations can promote discussions through the media and by holding information sessions on menstruation and other health topics.

There you have it folks. March is endometriosis month. Tweet yo blood clots, see yo doctor, check out an event.

Beck O’Hara is a undertaking her PhD at Jean Hailes Research Unit, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University.

(Lead image: Rupi Kaur/Instagram)