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periods

Health

Does your period pain feel ‘as bad as a heart attack’? You’re not imagining it

Some women experience debilitating period cramps, but the medical community isn't helping.

You’re not alone.

Here's an article to send to every jerk in your life who denied you the right to complain about your period cramps: A medical expert says that some women experience menstruation pains that are "almost as bad as having a heart attack." John Guillebaud, who is a professor of reproductive health at University College London, spoke to Quartz on the subject, and said that the medical community has long ignored what can be a debilitating affliction, because it's a problem that mostly inconveniences women.

"I think it happens with both genders of doctor," Guillebaud told Quartz. "On the one hand, men don't suffer the pain and underestimate how much it is or can be in some women. But I think some women doctors can be a bit unsympathetic because either they don't get it themselves or if they do get it they think, 'Well I can live with it, so can my patient.'"



And it's a problem that can't just be treated with common painkillers. Some people who experience dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful menstruation, also suffer from endometriosis, a condition that can cause infertility if it's not treated properly. But research on the subject is scant, so doctors often misdiagnose it, or dismiss the pain entirely. It's estimated, however, that one out of 10 women has the condition.

Earlier this month, Girls creator Lena Dunham was forced to take a rest from show promotion and other work duties because she suffers from endometriosis. In a recent edition of her newsletter, Lenny Letter, Dunham wrote a frank essay about her struggle with the condition, and particularly with a medical institution that didn't know how to diagnose her. She didn't know how to put a name to her pain until she turned 24 and underwent laparoscopic surgery, "which is the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis," according to Dunham.

Quartz reporter Olivia Goldhill had the same problem. She suffered from frequent period pains that were as distressing as a slipped disk, she says. But doctors had no answer for her. "Before I had my MRI scans, I told my primary care doctor that the pain seemed to be triggered by my period," she said. "He didn't think this was relevant and ignored the comment."

For now, the medical community has been dragging its feet to do research on the subject. Goldhill says the only thing people can do right now is talk about it, to heighten awareness. "Tell your doctor, your friends, your colleagues," she wrote. "We need to talk about period pain long and loudly enough for doctors to finally do something about it."

This article originally appeared on 09.14.17

K.O. Tha Barber and his package of Always pads.

Some dads need a little bit of help getting up to speed when it comes to the world of feminine hygiene products. But that’s fine as long as they are willing to learn. A TikTok user named @k.othabarber, who we’ll call K.O., got the call to help out his daughter who got her period in school and one user said he hilariously “overstood the assignment.”

K.O. is a barber in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who posts videos of himself taking unflattering haircuts and turning them into something amazing.



"So my baby mama just text me and told me like, 'hey baby dad, your daughter just got her period at school.' I'm like aight, cool, what I need to do?" K.O. said in the viral video. "She like, 'take her some pads up there.' I'm like aight, I'm finna take my dog to the doggy appointment and then I'm finna slide up there. She like, 'aight cool, get her some maxi pads. Get her some Always pads with wings,’” he continued.

Don’t read any more until you watch the video.

@k.othabarber

#KTB #storytime

"So, I feel like I should tell y'all what I did,” K.O. said before the video cuts to a large, 100-pack of sanitary napkins and a to-go container filled with chicken wings. He was supposed to get Always pads with wings, not chicken wings on the side.

Even though K.O. had a bit of a misunderstanding, TikTok had his back because he went out of his way for his daughter. It was also humble of him to admit his rather egregious mistake.

"Overstood the assignment, king," RayP0710 wrote. "She might need some chocolate too but you did A Great Job Dad!" Asia added. Others were happy that K.O. accidentally dealt with the emotional side of menstruation.

"The pads will help her with her cycle and the wings is emotional support & care. Add a little note telling her that you love her," sola_scriptum wrote. "Good job dad! She’ll be happy you brought both," Tiffiney Lee added.

Although K.O. made a rookie mistake while getting the pads, it’s cool that he was excited to help and did what he thought was right. It was also encouraging that after the video went viral, nearly everyone was supportive of K.O. helping his daughter with her feminine hygiene needs.

When men are open to learning about the mensural cycle it works to destigmatize periods. This is vital to women achieving equality because the lack of conversation around menstruation leads to misunderstandings that hold women back.

A poll published in the New York Post found that “58 percent of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their period” and that “44 percent of men admit to having made a joke about or comment on a partner’s mood when she was on her period.”

When men like K.O. have no problem talking openly about periods and even having a little fun, it goes a long way toward opening up the conversation for everyone. The more comfortable we get talking about menstruation, the more equitable the world becomes for women.


Menstrual leave in Spain would allow people with painful periods three to five days off per month.

How people experience menstruation can run the gamut, from minor inconvenience to debilitating pain and discomfort to everything in between. For some, it's a few extra bathroom trips and maybe a little moodiness for a few days. For others, the symptoms can include migraine headaches, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea and cramps that make it nearly impossible to get out of bed.

Societies and cultures around the world have taken different approaches to menstruation, from stigmatizing ostracization to celebration and respect. And generally speaking—other than perhaps putting period product machines in women's restrooms—the professional world simply pretends that menstruation doesn't exist. Employers aren't about to ask about it and considering the uphill battle to get women accepted in many professional settings, most women aren't going to openly talk about it.

But globally, women make up nearly 40% of the labor force, and in the U.S. that percentage climbs to nearly 50%. With so many women participating in the workforce, and with a good percentage of people who menstruate experiencing significant pain and discomfort, it seems logical that menstruation would at least be a consideration of some sort in terms of employment policies.


A handful of countries have officially recognized menstruation as a reason to take time off of work, including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Zambia and parts of China and India. According to CBS 8, these countries offer anywhere from 30 extra minutes of break time to multiple days off with full pay for employees whose menstrual symptoms interfere with their work. In South Korea, an ex-CEO made headlines last year when he was fined for refusing to allow an employee menstrual leave, which is protected by the country's employment laws. But the concept isn't new. Japan's menstrual leave policies have been in place since 1947.

Now, Spain is positioned to become the first Western nation to offer people paid time off during their periods.

According to Euronews Next , the Spanish government is expected to endorse a reproductive health bill that includes three to five days of menstrual leave per month for those with painful periods.

The outlet reported that Irene Montero, Spain's equality minister, wrote on Twitter: "We are making progress so that it is no longer normal to go to work in pain and to put an end to the stigma, shame and silence surrounding menstruation. We are making progress on rights."

However, the push for menstrual leave is not without controversy. Members of Spain's government as well as its main trade unions have differing opinions on the measure, with some questioning what constitutes a "painful period" and some expressing concern that menstrual leave will ultimately stigmatize women even more, making it less likely that employers will want to hire women.

Such debates are reflected in discussions among the general population as well. A Reddit post about Spain's pending legislation prompted some lively debates about whether menstrual leave is a positive or negative thing for women in the workforce.

"On one hand I think it's fantastic a woman can take a few days off when she's got her period, I know I'd hate to work with cramps and stuff" wrote one commenter. "But I do worry that it might make business less likely to hire women, and/or women less valuable."

"I'd imagine in the same way that having a kid makes some companies not want to hire women, having them taking 3 days off will further push them to the side of let's find a reason not to hire them," wrote another.

"I don’t think codifying the ridiculous idea that women are 10% less productive than men is a good thing," wrote another.

However, it appears the policy is not meant to be a blanket few days off for all people who menstruate, but rather for those who suffer from severe symptoms.

"It is important to clarify what a painful period is, we are not talking about a slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhea, severe headaches, fever," Ángela Rodríguez, Spain’s secretary of state for equality and against gender violence, told El Periódico newspaper, according to Euronews Next.

In addition to concerns, there was compassion on Reddit for women who suffer from painful periods as well.

"Seems good in theory. Women have the option to use it, but don't have to if their periods aren't bad," wrote one Reddit commenter. "It's a pro-labor market right now, so this is the right time to push for these sorts of programs. My wife gets terrible cramps prior to her cycle. I would like for her to at least have the option to take a day or two off so she can take some Pamprin and curl up in a ball."

"I’m a guy I don’t get periods but I know my mom and my sister particularly my sister gets it so bad she has to stay home from school when that time of the month comes around," wrote another. "And I guess from how I understand it every woman’s period is different from another so I hope this helps those who have severe pain and such."

The post also prompted discussion about how paid sick leave varies from place to place. Some people were shocked to hear that paid sick leave isn't guaranteed in some places (ahem, the United States) and some were surprised that in some places where paid sick leave is unlimited, a doctor has to send a note to your employer for it to count.

Some people felt that if you don't work, you don't deserve to get paid, period. Some felt that an employer has no right to know what your medical status is and if you are sick, you should just be able to say you're sick and be believed. Some complained that people go to work sick and make others sick because they're afraid of losing their jobs.

Fundamentally, if someone is not feeling well enough to work, whether it's due to illness or period pain or other health issues, they should be able to take time off without worrying about their livelihood. That's simply humane. A menstrual leave law may have pros and cons in practice, but at the end of the day, the acknowledgment that some periods can leave people suffering for a few days a month is a good thing, and ensuring that those people have the ability to care for themselves is the right thing to do.

Men try a period simulator.

Imagine how different the world would be if cis-gendered men had the ability to give birth? Would the state of Texas attempt to ban abortions after six weeks or would they be available on-demand?

Would we live in a country without mandatory paid maternity leave? How much more affordable would childcare be? Would there be a tax on period products? How would we treat people experiencing period pain?

A few brave men decided to see what life was like for people who have periods in a funny but enlightening video that's gone viral on TikTok. In a video posted by Benz Trap House that has over 1.4 million views, a group of guys tried a period simulator to experience what menstrual cramps really feel like.

Period simulators are essentially the same as labor simulators. They're called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machines that are designed to relieve pain. But when turned up a notch can create intense, debilitating discomfort.


The group took a semi-scientific approach to the experiment with a woman acting as a control subject. At the beginning of the video, she attaches the simulator to an area near her ovaries and turns it up to ten, the highest setting. In the clip, the group looks impressed as she endures the extreme setting without showing any discomfort.

The men would not do as well.

The boys tried a period simulator #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #funny #periodcramps #periodsimulator #viral

@benztraphouse

The boys tried a period simulator #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #funny #periodcramps #periodsimulator #viral

When the first guy attempted to wear the period simulator he was shocked by the discomfort. "Is it supposed to hurt like that?" the second guy says before erupting in nervous laughter.

The third guy said that he felt the pain all the way down to his knee caps.

At one point in the video, the period simulator is attached to a woman and a man at the same time. When the device is turned on, the guy is in extreme pain while the woman stands still, claiming the feelings created by the machine are "not even as bad as a cramp."

"Yeah, my cramps hurt worse than this," she added.

A lot of people who menstruate felt validated after seeing the guys experience their first period.

"'You feel that in your back, boi?' every month, friend," a commenter named Crystal said.

One of the most popular comments was from Candyce, who said: "I'm convinced if men could get pregnant they'd have abortion clinics on every corner and paid maternity leave the whole pregnancy."

Another commenter, S DeMarco, pointed out that women have to go through an entire day in pain without a break.

"When he said 'it's stabbing me what do I do?' You go to work, clean the house and continue on bb," she wrote.

Shellz took reality up a notch. "Let's add headaches. And period poops. And bloating. And the feeling of blood leaving you. And the nausea," she wrote.

It's cool that the lighthearted video has gone viral because it'll give some people newfound respect for the pain that people who have periods go through. Some who watched the video thought that period simulators should be mandatory in sex ed classes.

Imagine how different the world would be if everyone experienced menstrual pain just once in their life?