June 24, 2008

Don’t Put Off Talking About Painful Periods

Most women experience some discomfort during their periods. But for some, the pain is so excruciating and severe that it could be a sign of an underlying condition.

Three years ago, Exeter pharmacist Philippa Houchin, who had suffered heavy, painful periods since she was a teenager, was diagnosed with adenomyosis, a condition which is similar to endometriosis.

She said: "On a monthly basis, I was experiencing huge amounts of pain. I was able to work, but on some days, it was a struggle to get in."

Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue normally lining the womb grows on different organs outside the uterus. Adenomyosis, meanwhile, is where the lining moves to the outer muscular walls of the uterus.

Several members of Philippa's family have adenomyosis or endometriosis, so the 28-year-old from St James, Exeter, always knew there was a chance that she could develop one of those conditions.

She said: "There aren't any particular causes, but there is a genetic component. As a family, we have taken part in an initial trial to try to locate the genes responsible because it does tend to run in families."

So, when she was diagnosed with adenomyosis, following a laparoscopy, it did not come as any great surprise.

Philippa said: "They found some extra ligaments around my uterus which they removed when the pain returned. I took myself to A&E because I was in absolute agony. I had a clot the size of a golf ball that had got stuck. After that, I had to go back to the gynaecologist, who then did a laparoscopy."

A laparoscopy five years before had found nothing. So after years of suffering severe abdominal pain and heavy periods for eight days a month, Philippa was relieved to finally find out what was wrong.

She said: "It was a relief to find out that there was a reason behind it."

After being diagnosed, Philippa was given anti-imflammatory medication and another drug which broke down her blood clots.

Then, she started having a mirena coil, usually a means of contraception, fitted regularly, which controls her symptoms.

"It is one of the not very many treatments for adenomyosis which still enable you to potentially have children," she said. "I do have periods, but they are a lot lighter and the pain is a lot more manageable. It's good to know that there is something there that helps.

"Now I just take basic painkillers. It's a lot easier to manage daily life and not have to worry. But you can't go away anywhere without taking painkillers and sanitary products with you because your periods are so unpredictable."

Although endometriosis and adenomyosis can lead to infertility, having a child can also ease symptoms.

Philippa said: "It is not something I have thought about much for the near future, but I would one day. It is good to know my condition is being managed. It is very reassuring and makes life much easier. I am hopeful for the future."

Philippa said anyone experiencing extremely painful and heavy periods should go and see their GP. She said: "I'm not quite sure why, but it seems that a lot of people struggle on with the pain and don't seek help. People don't tend to talk about the conditions much. It is all put under the banner of 'women's problems' and people are put off coming out and discussing these things."

(c) 2008 Express & Echo (Exeter UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.