A 2016 Quartz article in which a doctor claims that period cramps can be as painful as heart attacks recently made the rounds on the internet, eliciting some strong reactions from Twitter. Many women said they already could have told us that — which I found rather alarming. How has our society let so many people suffer from that much pain on a monthly basis? And is that really just period cramps, or is there something else going on there?
Many of us learn growing up to expect some discomfort around our periods. But the problem is, we're not taught how much. Those with conditions like endometriosis or fibroids that cause severe pelvic pain often don't help because they and their doctors believe the pain is normal. But it's not. It's important to acknowledge how common severe menstrual pain is, but we shouldn't normalize it in the process.
There are two types of period pain: primary dysmenorrhea, which stands on its own, and secondary dysmenorrhea, which is linked to an underlying condition, Dr. Nita Landry, OB/GYN and co-host of The Doctors, tells Bustle. Because menstrual pain is so normalized, many people with secondary dysmenorrhea believe they actually have primary dysmenorrhea and don't get the treatment they need soon enough. It's important to catch these issues early so that symptoms don't escalate.
Many people experience primary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, due to the volume of blood in the uterus, the contractions that push it out, or decreased blood supply to the womb, Dr. Sophia Yen, CEO of Pandia Health, tells Bustle. "While it can be normal to have period cramps — discomfort — your periods shouldn’t be debilitating," Astroglide's resident ob-gyn Dr. Angela Jones tells Bustle. What exactly is the difference between regular discomfort and debilitating pain, though? Here are some signs, according to doctors, that your menstrual pain requires medical attention.