Menstrual Health Conditions, signs and symptoms to watch out for
It’s that time of the month, which means you’re probably getting ready to hunker down for a few days of cramps, change of mood and a craving for sweet treats. Menstruation is a normal part of the female hormone cycle, but there are a few menstrual health conditions associated with periods that can cause serious pain, additional symptoms and complex side affects that should be treated by a health professional.
We’ve pulled together a run down of the most common menstrual health conditions for you.
Periods can hurt! Mild stomach cramps and back ache during periods are common. This is because your womb is contracting to squeeze out blood through the narrow cervix.
Using a heat pack or hot water bottle, having a warm shower or bath, or doing gentle exercise can help. If necessary, take some mild painkillers.
When to see a doctor
Because most people experience some form of period cramps it can be difficult to tell what is normal and when to get help. You should consult a doctor is you have any of the following symptoms.
- Extreme pain that isn’t helped by taking pain killers
- Very heavy bleeding (changing your pad or tampon every 1-2 hours)
- Depression or anxiety every period
- Cycles that are very irregular
- Irregular bleeding between periods
Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)
In the week before your period it’s normal to feel tired, sensitive and grumpy as hormone changes affect the body and the emotions. This is called Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Everyone experiences periods differently, but some common symptoms before and during a period can include
- Mood swings
- Tender Breasts
Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is the level up from PMS, and needs to be considered with a bit more care. PMDD can cause severe irritability, depression or anxiety. PMDD is thought to occur if your body is highly sensitive to change in hormones. The symptoms can be both emotional and physical and include:
- Feelings of anxiety, anger or depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of energy & issues with sleeping
- Less interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Pain in your muscles and joints
- Change in your appetite
Experiencing PMDD can make it difficult to work, socialise and live everyday life as normal, and in severe cases can lead to suicidal thoughts. Lots of advice is available to those who need some extra help living with PMDD. Tracking your cycle and symptoms can massively help pin point your PMDD, as well as reaching out to organisations such as UK PMDD Support.
Endometriosis is a condition that affects 1 in 10 people who menstruate in the UK, but can often be very hard to diagnose.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to that of lining of the womb forms on other parts of the reproductive organs or other parts of the body, causing extremely heavy and painful periods. The cells form just as they would if they were inside the womb, and when it’s time for them to break down, the blood has nowhere to go. Endometriosis can result in symptoms such as;
- Chronic period pain
- Very heavy periods
- Pain during of after sex
- Pain when peeing or pooing during your period
- Feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea or blood in your pee during your period
- Depression and anxiety
- Fertility issues
- Weight gain
- Difficulty fulfilling work and social commitments
In some severe cases, Endometriosis can have lasting damaging effects on a person’s organs, so the need to lock down a diagnosis is key. With the right care and treatment, and lifestyle adjustments many people can continue to enjoy a normal life and manage their Endometriosis symptoms with ease.
Treatments vary from person to person with Endometriosis, and can range from:
- managing pain with over the counter painkillers
- hormone management through contraceptives and hormone supplements
- surgery to remove endometriosis tissue presenting in other parts of the body
- Surgery to remove part, or all of the organs affected by endometriosis
With the right care and treatment, living with Endometriosis can be manageable and doesn’t have to get in the way of enjoying life.
There are lots of fantastic organisations who can offer specialised support, such as Endometriosis UK. Check out our collaboration with My First Period podcaster, Lucy Evers, who shared her Endometriosis story with us. You can also read the stories of Brittnee & Shannon who live with Endometriosis.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects how a woman’s ovaries work. It is more often common to develop PCOS during your late teens or early twenties. Symptoms are often not very prominent, but some of the most common are;
- Irregular periods
- Excess facial or body hair
- Weight gain
- Thinning and / or hair loss from the head
- Oily skin / acne
- Difficulty getting pregnant
PCOS is often related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, which causes the ovaries to grow harmless sacs of underdeveloped follicles. These sacs can stop eggs being released, resulting in irregular periods and difficulty tracking ovulation.
There is currently no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated. Check in with your GP to understand what you can do to help ease the effects of PCOS – some simple lifestyle changes could make all the difference like ensuring you are eating a healthy and balanced diet. Medicines are available to treat excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but serious illness (it only affects around 1 in 100,000 people!). TSS is associated with tampons and (even more rarely) menstrual cups. It is caused by bacteria that builds up when a period product is worn for too long, and can rapidly progress from flu-like symptoms to a serious illness that can be fatal.
Always use the lowest absorbency for your flow and change your tampon at least every 8 hours (it’s better to change every 4-6 hours). Symptoms include;
- Flu-like symptoms
If you think you might have TSS go to a doctor ASAP.
Peri Menopause & Menopause
Hot flushes? Irregular periods? Peri-menopause is the time when the menstrual cycle starts to change in the lead up to menopause. For most women, this happens between the ages of 45 and 55, but can happen earlier or later in your life. Symptoms often include;
- Hot flushes
- Irregular cycles
- Heavier periods
- Mood changes
In rare cases, these symptoms can arrive earlier in life. Some people’s hormones shift into peri-menopause as young as 20-30, and if this is the case, you should always seek the advice of your doctor for treatment. Peri-menopause can be a really difficult time – remember to get help if you need it.
The menstrual cycle usually comes to a gradual end after the peri-menopause, and when someone hasn’t had a period for at least 12 months, they have entered the menopause. This means no more eggs are released and you can no longer get pregnant even if you’re having unprotected sex.
And there you have it – a quick guide to the most common Menstrual Health Conditions. If you need help or advice on any of the issues highlighted, make an appointment with your GP.