Once we reach puberty, we as women experience a curious phenomenon known as a monthly cycle. For many it brings mild symptoms such as cramping, moodiness and a craving for chocolate. For others though this ‘time of the month’ brings pain, heavy bleeding and a week or more of pure misery.
This was me! From the time I was about 20, I remember on several occasions being on my hands and knees in pain. I was going through a box of tampons and several pads in a single day. A period, rather than lasting the ‘normal’ time of 5-7 days, was lasting for 2 weeks. I became very anaemic and tired all the time.
I went to my GP who prescribed painkillers and iron tablets while trying to reassure me by saying “It’s just dysmenorrhea, it will ease off in a few days”.
It didn’t. I persevered, I suffered.
Several months later my mother convinced me to go back to the GP who was completely dumbfounded that I hadn’t returned sooner. This time she ordered blood tests and an ultrasound.
Yes, I was low in iron, no kidding?
Yes, there was some inflammation somewhere in my body but the ultrasound was inconclusive. She then gave me a referral to have a laparoscopy performed.
A laparoscopy is a procedure where a camera is inserted into an incision made near the navel. This is to be able to visualise the surrounding tissue and take a biopsy if needed. Very invasive but reasonably simple in the big scheme of things, or so I was told. I was only in day surgery and recovered quickly. The specialist came up with a diagnosis of endometriosis and it appears that this procedure was the gold standard for diagnosing it. I was told that endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus grows in other places within the pelvic and abdominal cavity. Some women have endometriosis with little or no symptoms, they will only become aware of the condition when they have difficulty falling pregnant. For others it is a living nightmare of extreme pain and almost haemorrhage-like bleeding.
Even though there are many theories about what causes this condition, it is clear that no one really knows for sure.
Okay, now what?
The hard part was deciding what to do about it.
All the doctors I spoke to were unanimous in their opinion, cut it out or wait it out. It seemed that this condition would resolve at menopause, but this was still a long way off. I decided to do a little digging for myself. I found that in a majority of cases the endometriosis came back. The final resort, they told me, would be to have a hysterectomy. At 24 years of age, single with no children, I wasn’t doing that.
I persevered. I suffered still.
In the mean-time life happened. At 29 years of age I found myself pregnant with my first son. For the first time in years I was pain free and no periods. Yay! This was followed almost three years later by the birth of my second son. Both uncomplicated reasonably ‘normal’ births.
Around the time of my youngest sons second birthday IT was back, with a vengeance.
I was putting on weight, I was unhappy and I was still in pain.
Every. single. month.
Eventually I agreed to my GPs recommendation of having a Mirena fitted. This is a very small device that is inserted into the uterus through the cervix. Usually used for contraception, it releases progesterone and can stay in place for up to 5 years. It appeared to make things worse, even though the pain had eased a little the blood loss was still heavy. I was resigned to the fact that this is just how it is.
One day, after nearly five more years of this, I was reading about how sugar is implicated in inflammatory processes, and I decided to try giving it up. The first 2 or 3 weeks were horrendous, I had headaches, nausea and I was a cranky b**** all the time.
Then, all of a sudden, these symptoms totally disappeared. I was amazed. No more pain with a period and even the bleeding was reasonable. I even started losing a little weight. Was is the Mirena suddenly working at the end of its stated life or was it the improvement in my diet?
In August of that year, I had the Mirena removed. I was tentatively waiting for my next cycle, would all the discomfort and horrible bleeding return?
In fact, no it didn’t but my period hadn’t returned either. Now, in it’s place were hot flushes and night sweats.
Oh no! Welcome to menopause.