And we should talk about that.
Back in high school, my health teacher, Mr. Brink asked how many of us girls had heavy and painful periods. A few of us raised our hands. Then he claimed that most women who said they have difficult periods don’t — they only think that they do.
At the time, I was still young and naive enough to take a teacher’s word as fact. So I thought there must be something wrong with me and my perception. At 15 years old, I routinely missed school because I was doubled over in pain and bleeding in the bathroom.
But maybe I was just a big, overexaggerating baby?
I had completely forgotten about Mr. Brink until today when I was sitting on the toilet feeling pretty damn frustrated about the fact that my period flow is too heavy to leave the house.
As a woman with PCOS and endometriosis, it’s not unusual that I also suffer from menorrhagia aka heavy periods. It’s all par for the course, but what is pretty damn ridiculous is how little we talk about a real problem which millions of women and girls face.
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women has menorrhagia. That’s far from rare, yet the realities of heavy menstrual cycles and period pain are still considered too taboo for polite conversation.
It got me thinking. I don’t have to give myself a menstrual blood facial to help fight stigmas and raise awareness of the fact that so many women tend to suffer in silence. I can write about heavy periods without shame.
Honestly, I’m not even sure how I used to manage going to school or working a “regular” job. I missed a whole lot of work on days like this where my bleeding was too heavy to leave the house.
What makes it too heavy to leave home?
Changing pads or tampons every hour is problematic away from home. Plus, heavy bleeding comes with a high likelihood of accidents — like blood leaking onto your pants or even your chair.
Mental fog and fatigue from blood loss are also legitimate issues.
But not every woman is as lucky as I am. They don’t have the option to stay home. Isn’t that all the more reason to talk about heavy periods?
I’m amazed by how many men and women alike treat periods like some disgusting matter, and bleeding accidents as if they are the worst of all faux pas. It’s as if people believe that period leaks are the result of user error or poor hygiene.
As if the woman doesn’t know how to take care of herself.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons for period leaks, and women with menorrhagia are more likely to run into such problems. Most feminine hygiene products aren’t designed for such heavy bleeding, and simply getting into a bathroom every hour or more can be a challenge itself.
Furthermore, some women with heavy periods don’t just have to manage vaginal bleeding. Women with endometriosis often have to deal with rectal bleeding during menses as well.
Incredibly, I’ve had physicians argue with me and insist that it’s impossible for a woman to bleed from her butt during that time of the month. They have suggested that I only think I’m bleeding back there.
Yet, heavy rectal bleeding during your period is another reason to stay home. It doesn’t matter how much you shower and bathe or change your menstrual pads. You can’t always prevent bleeding accidents.
Talking about your painful period symptoms is generally frowned upon in polite society. People can talk about allergies, colds, and often even gastrointestinal distress before people find it acceptable to mention your menstrual cycle.
But period symptoms, and especially the symptoms of heavy periods are often serious enough to impact a woman’s daily life. Which you would think is good enough reason to talk about that.
Among the worst of these symptoms is fatigue due to anemia, which is frequently linked to heavy periods. It makes sense if you’re losing so much blood.
Unfortunately, many women feel compelled to suffer in silence since periods are still wrapped in so much stigma. They don’t talk to their doctors about their experiences, or when they do, they just aren’t taken seriously.
On average, it takes a decade for an American woman to get diagnosed with endometriosis, partly because we have a cultural expectation for women to suffer from menstrual pain (and to do so in silence).
In recent years, there’s been a lot of debate among researchers about whether or not “period brain” exists. Some of the more recent research suggests that our periods do not in fact negatively impact our thinking abilities.
Good to know.
So what about the brain fog some women report with their periods? The more likely culprit is anemia from a heavy menstrual flow. But again, plenty of women with anemia from heavy periods often don’t ask for help because we feel the expectation to suffer in silence.
Unfortunately, treatment for iron deficiency anemia isn’t as straightforward as taking iron supplements or even eating more iron-rich foods. You need to talk to your doctor first for proper results, which once again means you’ve got to feel able to talk about your period without shame.
Sadly, if you suffer from menorrhagia, heavy bleeding and horrible menstrual pain can happen regardless of what’s on your to-do list. Even with hormonal treatments like birth control pills, you might still struggle to get through certain days.
I am hardly the only woman to struggle with self-care during my period, especially since my cycle tends to be so unpredictable. Heavy bleeding, pain, and fatigue might make a person feel like taking plenty of showers or leisurely baths, yet family and work responsibilities don’t always allow for such things.
Another common struggle women might have with menorrhagia is simply eating well. Plenty of women face cravings for junk food as they experience hormonal fluctuations and low blood sugar. Personally, my resolve goes right out the window when I’m battling heavy blood loss and period pain.
Of course, certain foods are more beneficial than others when we suffer from heavy period symptoms. It pays to give your body unprocessed whole foods which are rich in the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.
But honestly? Too many women with heavy periods are just trying to survive. In those moments, we’re much more likely to reach for easily accessible junk food.
And we should talk about that. A lot of women don’t know that there are treatments which might help ease some of their symptoms. Better than just resolving to grin and bear it.
Plenty of women don’t even know that they have a real medical condition which warrants actual medical attention. Periods are not supposed to be as painful as so many of us are conditioned to believe.
And battling heavy periods doesn’t make you gross or off-putting.
It simply makes you human, and after all, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”