I can vividly remember being thirteen years old and sitting awkwardly across the desk from my middle aged male GP as he asked me what bothered me more about the periods I was complaining about- the pain or the heavy bleeding. ‘Errrr both?!’ I mumbled, completely mortified. I’d never really thought of it as an either/or choice before, but I was certain that both had been making me completely miserable; rendering my school life challenging and a social life impossible. I had never told this to anybody before, it was way too embarrassing, and besides- what counts as heavy bleeding anyway? I’d never exactly compared quantities with my female friends or family. Perhaps my periods were totally normal and this was just a fact of life I’d have to get used to.
Those of you who are familiar with my story from this blog will know that it took another decade after this meeting for me to finally access the treatment I needed (for what turned out to be severe endometriosis and adenomyosis) to live a happy and healthy life. Research shows that I am not alone in this situation, as around 20% of women are believed to experienced Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (HMB) during their lifetime, with many requiring multiple visits to their healthcare providers before being correctly diagnosed and treated. HMB is also a leading cause of gynaecological admissions to hospital and hysterectomies, but you may not know that, as like my younger self many women choose not to share their experiences owing to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
The great news however is that a new report published this week by the Menstrual Health Coalition aims to change all of this and get HMB up on the political and social agenda. The Coalition (which is made up of relevant politicians, clinicians, and charities etc) has examined written and oral evidence provided on HMB to put together its ambitious report.
You can read the full report here.
The main findings are that the wellbeing of women with HMB is currently negatively impacted by:
1. Societal stigma around menstrual health.
2. Poor clinical awareness of the condition and treatments.
3. Inadequate and often disjointed services.
To address these problems, the Coalition have provided a number of recommendations which include:
1. Educating school pupils about what constitutes normal and abnormal periods, and empowering them to be able to speak more openly about menstrual health.
2. Revising services to make better information available to patients and clinicians.
3. Improve commissioning.
4. Ensuring services are adequately joined up to improve the patient experience.
While these findings and calls to action seem sensible and are likely to be very familiar to anyone who has experienced HMB, it is so encouraging to see this evidence gathered in one place and being promoted to the lawmakers and health professionals who have the ability to effect so much positive change in the lives of thousands of women.
I honestly believe the stigma around menstrual health has started to be worn down over the last few years and real change is taking place, and this report is just what is needed to keep pushing the issue forward.
From my perspective the emphasis on education young women to know what constitutes a ‘normal’ period and empowering them to feel confident to speak openly about their menstrual health is going to be the game changer for future women to ensure they do not have to suffer as myself and others of my generation have. Knowledge IS power. It will be interesting to see if and how how the recommendation are enacted within schools and society over the coming years. The time for change is now and our actions must be louder than these words. The Menstrual Health Coalition means business and armed with this report has the tools it requires to suceed, so we have much cause for hope.
I’d be really interested to know your experiences with heavy menstrual bleeding, or your thoughts in the publication and content of this new report. What’s the biggest factor that you think could support women to promote their menstrual health?
If you use twitter you can follow the Menstrual Health Coalition on Twitter here.
A version of this post also appears in the Menstrual Health Coalition website here.