For any woman who has felt less productive during her period, new research suggests you’re not alone.
According to a recent Dutch study published in the BMJ on Thursday, period pain is linked to losing almost nine days of productivity at school and work per year.
The study, which surveyed 32,748 women between the ages of 15 and 45, measured absenteeism (how much time was taken away from work or school) and presenteeism (how much productivity was lost in those two places).
“Menstruation-related symptoms cause a great deal of lost productivity, and presenteeism is a bigger contributor to this than absenteeism,” the study’s authors wrote.
“There is an urgent need for more focus on the impact of these symptoms, especially in women aged under 21 years, for discussions of treatment options with women of all ages and, ideally, more flexibility for women who work or go to school.”
The research suggested 13.8 per cent of all women reported absenteeism during their periods and 3.4 per cent reported taking time off from school or work almost every time they were on their period. This was about 1.3 days a year on average.
Authors also noted that 80.7 per cent of all women reported presenteeism and, overall, lost 23.2 days of productivity in the year. As an average, this was about nine days per year.
“Women under 21 years were more likely to report absenteeism due to menstruation-related symptoms,” the authors continued. “When women called in sick due to their periods, only 20.1 per cent told their employer or school that their absence was due to menstrual complaints.”
Experiencing period pain
Previously speaking with Global News, Dr. Catherine Allaire, medical director of B.C. Women’s Hospital Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis, said discomfort during your period is normal — however, not everyone experiences pain.
She added that pain of any kind can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. Allaire also said period pain should not interfere with your daily life and that if it does, women should seek medical help.
“If you’re planning your life around your period — it’s interfering with your activities and things like Advil are not sufficient to manage your cramps — then that would be something that should be alerting you to seek attention from a physician,” Allaire said.
But excessive period pain can be a sign of endometriosis.
“It’s time to stop normalizing women’s pain,” she said.
“I’ve heard this story too much: that it’s normal, it’s to be expected that you will have this pain as a woman. And the type and severity of pain that women have suffered with in silence and not sought help for is quite staggering, at times, when I listen to the stories.”
Types of pain
According to the Cleveland Clinic, dysmenorrhea is the medical term for period cramps, which are caused by contractions. The site notes there are two types of dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorrhea involves cramps that are regular and not caused by other diseases.
“Pain usually begins one or two days before or when menstrual bleeding starts and is felt in the lower abdomen, back or thighs,” the clinic noted.
“Pain can range from mild to severe, can typically last 12 to 72 hours and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, fatigue and even diarrhea. Common menstrual cramps usually become less painful as a woman ages and may stop entirely if the woman has a baby.”
The second type of dysmenorrhea is secondary dysmenorrhea, and it is caused by a disorder in a woman’s reproductive organs such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids or an infection.
“Pain from secondary dysmenorrhea usually begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and lasts longer than common menstrual cramps. The pain is not typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fatigue or diarrhea,” the clinic noted.
Besides medicine, Everyday Health reported that some other ways to treat period pain include changing your diet (low-fat diets have been linked to fighting inflammation in the body), drinking herbal tea and using a heating pad to ease cramps.
—With files from Leslie Young