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Male Doctor Says What We All Knew: Period Pain Can Be 'Almost as Bad as a Heart Attack'

Photograph by Twenty20

Many of us know how bad menstrual cramps can get. The pain can be so unbearable that we curl up in a ball for long periods of time, wishing whatever was punching out our uterus would just—for the love of everything—stop. We try heating pads, painkillers, oral contraceptives, even sipping chamomile. Anything to "suck it up" and get through it.

No, we're not being overdramatic or exaggerating. Just ask John Guillebaud. He gets it.

Who's John Guillebaud? He's the guy everyone's talking about. He's the professor of reproductive health at University College London who told Quartz in 2016 that patients have described period pain as "almost as bad as having a heart attack." (A man said it, so it must be true!) He's the expert everyone's quoting because, finally, finally, a male doctor has publicly acknowledged that ibuprofen isn't a good enough fix and women's pain and period symptoms shouldn't be dismissed.

His words have prompted rallying cries from women sick of suffering in silence—or sick of saying the same thing all along. For so long, women have likened period pain to childbirth, being stabbed in the stomach and twisting the knife, or drilling holes in the base of the spine.

Dysmenorrhea, the more technical term for period pain, is the most common gynecological problem in women and interferes with daily activities in up to 20 percent of women, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. But not a lot is known about the condition (including the causes) and existing treatments are limited.

Intense period pain has also been normalized. (It took several doctors before some of us finally learned that such painful cramping was not normal.) Just because it's common, doesn't mean it's normal. Many women who suffer from dysmenorrhea also don't realize they have endometriosis, a condition in which the lining of the uterus grows in other places. Endometriosis causes heavy and painful periods, as well as infertility if left untreated. Unfortunately, it has been taking an average of 10 years for women to get an accurate diagnosis.

So, don't ignore the pain, ladies (and, really, medical experts). There's nothing to gain from it.

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