The Silent Epidemic
What epidemic are we talking about? Menstrual health degenerating at staggering rates into endometriosis (10%), PCOS (12%), PMDD (up to 10%) and Fibroids (up to 60%). Nobody's doing anything about it, well, except for a few industry disruptors.
Why is this happening?
Medically, Overlooked, Undervalued and Misdiagnosed
It is not uncommon to hear of people that have gone to the GP with abnormally intense period pain and gotten a contraceptive pill prescribed to them. Then, they come off it in their 30's and suddenly realise the gravity of their period health, which had degenerated further into endometriosis, fibrosis or PCOS. Menstrual diagnoses are hard to come by, even if you know what you're looking for. If you think you might have endometriosis, you might have to wait up to 9 years before getting a medical diagnosis. Sometimes, the only way to truly diagnose the condition is with a surgical procedure and unfortunately there is currently no cure for endometriosis and PCOS.
The contraceptive pill has become the default prescription for period symptoms, often without digging deeper into the root of the issue or ever checking for a menstrual condition. A recent study found that about 60% of US women are on contraceptives to numb or overcome their period symptoms, from cramps, to general pain to acne, of which 14% are SOLEY taking it because of their period pain. Some as early as 11 years old.
The issue of menstrual pain is widespread, 8 out of 10 menstruators are in pain for 48 - 72 hours on average, for 35-40 years. Whether that's physical pain, psychological burdens (77%) or tiredness (71%). In a survey conducted on 42,879 women aged 15-45, the results show that up to 38% reported not being able to perform all their regular daily activities. Only about 48.6% told their family that their period symptoms were the reason for quitting or transferring the tasks.
Deep-rooted menstrual shame
Menstrual shame is still largely at fault for people not coming forward and not recognising the importance of their menstrual health. However, it's not our fault for feeling ashamed. We have been conditioned to hide our blood, to stay silent about our period, often defaulting to euphemisms such as " Shark week, Time of the month, Aunt Flo, On the rag, Crimson tide, Moon cycle, Mother nature's gift and Code red".
In fact, a poll conducted on 1000 women in the UK showed that only 19% of women feel like they can discuss their period symptoms openly with their doctor. Perhaps even more worryingly, about 29% of women had even slept on the sofa, in the spare room or even in a different house altogether while on their period, either because of theirs or their partner's preference.
Underfunded Start-ups and Research
The above points all tie in together with the staggering lack of research, both privately and publicly funded, for cycle symptoms and menstrual conditions. Furthermore, relevant university degrees such as biomedical sciences often lack a curriculum and personnel to address reproductive health. The UK is currently the worst in the G20 for women's health, so that's an accurate indication to how things are going, although the rest of the world isn't much further ahead.
What can I DO?
First of all, forgive yourself if you've contributed to the stigma or just came across period health, we've all been there and there is still plenty of time to fix things! The second step is education, know your period rights, know what a healthy period is and what it isn't. Educating yourself is the best bet you've got when advocating for a diagnosis in a GP's office. Luckily, we've just written a whole bunch of articles on a healthy period so you can check those out here. We've also just launched our first cohort of period wellness, which has 20 spots and will guide you towards period bliss with expert help and lots of community support. You can learn more about it by joining our community here!
There are many start-ups that are researching into how to provide the best contraceptives for your symptoms or even hormonal-free contraceptives and information such as Dama Health, Natural Cycles and Hormona. Other initiatives that are looking into Endometriosis and PCOS support are coming up quickly too! We see the light, but we need your help and commitment to changing the world!