Once our mums have given us “the talk” and we graduate from school, there seems to be an assumption that we know everything there is to know about periods. Over the years, whenever a question arises, we turn to the most accessible source – Google, where the internet offers up a minefield of misinformation and forums full of hypochondriacs.
With that in mind, we took some of the most common niggly questions to Dr Pandelis Athanasias, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist of Twenty-five Harley St, to answer all the questions we still have, and clear up any myths and misinformation we're not sure of.
When should you go to the doctor about period pain?
While 90 per cent of women experience period pains, for about one in five women their period pain will be severe enough to interfere with their daily life. This is when you need to seek advice, as the symptoms might be due to conditions like endometriosis.
What exactly is endometriosis and what are the symptoms?
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found in other areas of the body, most commonly the fallopian tubes, ovaries, the lining of the pelvis and in or around the bladder and bowel. If left untreated, it can affect a woman’s fertility. Common symptoms of women suffering from endometriosis include pelvic and lower abdominal pain, bloating, extremely painful periods and pain during or after sex.
Unfortunately, endometriosis is hard to diagnose. On average, it takes over seven years or 10 visits to a doctor to finally diagnose endometriosis, as a scan cannot rule it out. You need to see an expert gynaecologist, who will review your medical history and symptoms, examine you, perform a detailed ultrasound scan and then decide if keyhole surgery (laparoscopy) is needed.
Also, what is polycystic ovary syndrome and how would you know if you had it?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) means that your ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are unable to release an egg, which means ovulation doesn’t take place. PCOS can cause irregular (less frequent) periods, difficulties in getting pregnant, weight gain, acne and excessive hair growth all over the body.
Why do women often bloat in the time around their periods? Is there anything they can do to stop that?
The hormone changes at certain points of your cycle can cause your body to retain more water than usual and slow down your bowel movements. Normally, this happens before a period starts and settles down towards the end of a period, and it can cause your face, legs, breasts and abdomen to bloat.
To minimise these symptoms, you can try a low-sodium diet, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean protein, drink lots of water, exercise regularly and avoid caffeine, alcohol and processed foods. If these lifestyle changes don’t make a difference, you might want to talk to your GP, as hormonal birth control can be really effective in helping women who suffer from bloating during their menstrual cycle.
How heavy a period is TOO heavy a period?
A period is considered heavy when you lose 80ml or more of blood per period – that’s 16 soaked pads or tampons. If your period is leaking through to your clothes, you require double sanitary protection or you are passing large blood clots, you should probably head to your GP to see if they can do anything to help.
Can you make a period shorter?
Hormonal methods of birth control like the pill, coil or implant can help shorten and regulate your periods. However, if you’re looking for a hormone-free alternative, you can try to eat healthy balanced meals, add a lot of fruit and vegetables to your diet, drink more water, top up your vitamin C intake, exercise regularly and drink red raspberry leaf tea (it slows down blood flow when you’re on your period by balancing your hormones).
Do tampons prolong a period?
Technically, yes. Tampons can block the menstrual flow and, as a result, can make your period last longer.
Is it ok for your flow to be really different from month to month?
It’s totally normal for your flow to vary from month to month. Things like diet, stress, sleep changes and smoking can affect the balance of your reproductive hormones, which can then change the duration and heaviness of a period.
However, if your periods are getting gradually heavier, irregular and more painful, then you should head to the doctor in order to rule out any medical conditions, such as endometriosis, fibroids or polycystic ovary syndrome.
How common is early menopause?
Early menopause or premature ovarian failure affects about one in every 1,000 women under 30 and about one in every 100 women before the age of 40. The symptoms include mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, skipped periods, vaginal dryness and insomnia.
How long does the menopause normally last?
Many people confuse menopause with perimenopause. Perimenopause is the transition into the menopause and can last from 10 months to four years. Your body produces less estrogen and you start experiencing hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings.
The menopause officially begins when you have not had a period for more than 12 consecutive months.
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