Menorrhagia & Dysmenorrhea

Writer Ellen Margulies

By Ellen Margulies

The sight of a hotel bed clad only in white, far from whatever menagerie usually precludes such things at home, would strike nothing but delight in the hearts of most women. Not so for the heavy bleeders among us.

For someone who suffers from menorrhagia, a white-on-white away-from-home color scheme really brings on the stress: Will I bleed through? Did I bring an old towel from home? Is it too late to find another �
hotel room?

I suffered through extremely heavy, painful and, yes, embarrassing periods for decades before I was able to put names to my misery. It started when I was just a kid, which was great because I already felt like a freak of nature. There were spots on my clothes. My period started, or suddenly restarted, at the worst possible moments. I doubled up on the pads, and paired them with tampons, and still it wasn’t enough. I might have a reasonably “normal” period one month, only to be hit so hard the next month I’d have to take days off from work. Oh, did you think I meant to say “school” there? That was true, at first, but years passed and my condition stayed the same…

Did You know?

Women who eat a lot of salty food are more likely to suffer from painful periods. Source

There are two types of dysmenorrhea-primary and secondary.
Source

It’s a condition that afflicts some women from the time they first get their period; others see the onset after childbirth or in peri-menopause. It can be an occasional thing, or it can happen so frequently that every month is pretty much just one long period. It’s the sort of thing that drives a woman into Boyscout mode, if you’ll pardon the irony, because you do not want to be caught unprepared when you’re going through a tampon and maxi pad every hour or two. That sort of dilemma makes one resort to desperate measures from junior high (or middle school, for you younger readers),like tying a sweater around your waist and walking out to the parking lot holding your thighs together.

If you’re really lucky, this condition will be accompanied by dysmennhoria, or extreme pain during menstruation. I found myself in that camp. I also found there was an almost-underground community of women who suffer from this dreaded double-curse. You share grim tips — like waking yourself up every couple of hours at night before accidents happen, or putting towels over beds, chairs and car seats as if your uncooperative reproductive system were some sort of aging dog. You commiserate over ruined honeymoons, lingerie and 350-thread count bedding. You support each other through homeopathic remedies and lots of B-vitamin dosing. And you wonder why there aren’t any better solutions. For the most part, I’ve spent a lot of years in dread, and a lot more time than I wanted to with my feet in stirrups. I was severely anemic for several years. I went through test after treatment after test: ultrasounds, a hysteroscopy, a D&C and a few failed hormone treatements.

Try This:

How much do you know about your reproductive system? Try this quiz.

Birth control pills, which work well for some women to regulate their periods, were not a good solution for me. They made me even more emotional than usual, and, as a smoker for much of my youth, I was in a high-risk group. By the time I quit smoking, I was in another high-risk group — over 35. There’s ablation, but that’s not a good option if you want to hang onto your fertility — or if you’re just sick to death of all these procedures, as I am at this point in my life.

I do hear about medical advances all the time, and I find them heartening. Maybe someday we’ll see them advertised on TV, alongside those ultra-hip tampon commercials.

Until then, I keep my suitcases packed with boxes of feminine hygiene products. There will always be a pad and a tampon tucked away in a zippered pouch in my purse. And I find myself really looking forward to menopause.

Q: My cycle is not always 28 days is that normal?

Expert Dr. Elizabeth Oldfield answers your questions.

All the above information has been reviewed by this week’s expert.

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