Dear Pain Matters blog readers,
I chose today’s topic because period pain affects more than half of all adolescent women and many young adult women. It also used to be a dreaded part of my life until I went on ‘the Pill’ at 18 (shortly after meeting my husband-to-be).
I can tell you many personal stories about my painful menstrual cramps (prior to going on the Pill) including one time when I asked a fellow university student to please find a wheelchair and ‘just wheel me into the sick room’ (at the university) – which she did, and another time when I almost fainted during a university midterm exam – that coincided with the most intense part of my period pain that month. Needless to say, my period pain had reduced my answers to an unintelligible scrawl on that particular exam. My period pain was often so severe that I had to vomit and immediately lie down….no matter where I was at that time. This would lead to some awkward moments not only for myself, but also for those around me at the time (to say the least).
Guess what? All this misery stopped as soon as I went on the Pill! The Pill did not take my monthly period pain away, but it certainly dropped the pain levels down by a good notch or 2.
A Swedish Study:
Up to 50-75% of all female teenagers suffer from painful periods. The pain can be so severe that ~15% of adolescent and young women regularly miss school and work. This monthly disability can result in 600 million hours of ‘sick leave’ and $2 billion in lost productivity in the USA alone.
Quoting Ingela Lindh, lead author of a Swedish study that explored the effects of combined oral contraceptives on period pain:
“[Painful periods] can have a detrimental effect on these women’s lives, causing regular absenteeism from school and work, and interfering with their daily activities for several days each month….Therefore effective management of dysmenorrhea is beneficial for both the women affected and society.”
This Swedish study confirmed what many women (including myself) already know – that combined oral contraceptives may indeed offer relief from painful menstrual periods (dysmenorrhea).
Approximately 1,400 women born in 1962, 1972 and 1982, living in Gothenburg, Sweden, and who took combined oral contraceptives (i.e. that included both oestrogen and progestin) were randomly selected for inclusion in this longitudinal Swedish study. Women who took progestin-only pills were excluded from this study.
The women in this study were surveyed twice, 5 years apart (once at 19, and once again, at 24). The women agreed to complete written questionnaires including detailed questions about their:
- Period pain;
- Method(s) of contraception;
- Pregnancy history; and
- Height and weight.
The answers to these questionnaires were then properly compiled and analysed.
The study showed that combined oral contraceptives decreased the severity of painful menstrual periods (dysmenorrhea) more than increasing age and childbirth (Lindh et al, 2012).
Quoting Ingela Lindh, Institute of Clinical Sciences, Gothenburg University, Sweden:
“We found there was a significant difference in the severity of dysmenorrhea depending on whether or not the women used combined oral contraceptives.”
Please allow yourself to be regularly monitored by your GP for any adverse effects if you decide to take combined oral contraceptives.
“Sedare dolorem divinum opus est”
“It is divine to alleviate pain”
Galen, 130-200 C.E.
(1) Szalavitz, Maia
Birth Control Pills Provide Real Relief from Menstrual Pain – A New, Long-Term Study Finds that The Pill Really Does Help with Painful Periods.
TIME (20 January 2012)
(2) Conley, Mikaela
Combination Oral Contraception Pills Cut Menstruation Pain
ABC News (18 January 2012)
(3) Borland, Sophie
Yes, the Pill CAN Ease the Agony of Period Pain: Scientists Confirm What Millions of Women Already Know
Daily Mail UK (18 January 2012)
(4) Lindh I, Andersson-Ellström A, and Milsom I.
The Effect of Combined Oral Contraceptives and Age on Dysmenorrhoea: An Epidemiological Study.
Hum. Reprod. (2012) 27 (3): 676-682.