"Have you ever consulted a doctor for your menstrual problems? If yes, what for and what was their advice?”
Recently, we asked our community on Instagram if they had ever consulted a doctor for a menstrual problem and to share with us the treatment prescribed. Over 6,000 women responded to the survey, of which 1,840 women said they had consulted a doctor to improve their menstrual health. Overwhelmingly, the three major concerns were PCOS, Irregular Periods and Painful Periods. But, what surprised us was (1) the consistency in the treatments prescribed and (2) the lack of advice and sensitivity that many women had to face.
When it comes to treatments for menstrual problems, there seems to be two camps: the holistic vs. the hormonal. Holistic treatments broadly refer to lifestyle changes made along the pillars of nutrition, physical activity, and mental health, in an attempt to regulate periods from within. On the other end, doctors prescribe pills to address hormonal imbalances and irregularities in cycles. The responses we got from our survey adhered to this pattern. For the most part, women were either asked to make lifestyle changes or were put on birth control pills. In few cases, both forms of treatments were prescribed simultaneously.
The cornerstone advice for holistic care was to lose weight. Regardless of the problem - irregular periods, pmdd, pcos - weight loss seemed to be the preferred solution. Some doctors emphasised the need for physical exercise (~4x a week) and prescribed “nutrient rich food” or “nutritious diet”, while others mentioned yoga and adequate hydration. Avoiding junk food, sleeping 8 hours a night and managing stress were other frequent suggestions.
The cornerstone advice for this camp was for women to go on the birth control pill, especially for PCOS and irregular periods. In the case of painful periods or cramps, painkillers and ibuprofen were go-to solutions. Hot water bags, some supplements and pain pouches were also advised.
The research on women’s health is fairly young, and conditions such as PCOS are complicated and muti-factorial. Thereby, resulting in a dearth of effective treatments and solutions. In reality, losing weight has been shown to have a significant positive impact on cases of Irregular Periods and PCOS [add reference]. Doctors, although correct in prescribing weight loss as a first line treatment, (1) failed to offer guidance on how to achieve weight loss and (2) did not recognise the mental health impact of it all.
Losing weight, especially for women with PCOS and Insulin Resistance, is not as easy as it seems. Many women who took the survey complained of feeling judged for their weight and felt helpless when not presented with any roadmap as how to go about it. “Just lose weight,” “eat healthy”, “ stress less” did not present as adequate solutions anymore, rather repetitions of everything they already knew from their own research.
In some cases, doctors completely disregarded the problem at hand and made the patients feel as though it was “all in their head.” No solution was offered for pain or other symptoms and no attempt was made to explain the underlying bodily mechanisms. Women left feeling unheard and confused.
Even in the cases, in which pills were prescribed, many doctors failed to enumerate the pros and cons, or even offer some context for the recommendation.
Periods are not all rainbows and unicorns. The levels of pain experienced vary from person to person.Yet many admit that menstrual pain isn't given its fair due by society and sometimes even by doctors. Menstruation and problems and subjects related to it are often treated as taboo and aren't discussed which makes it difficult for many women to identify their problem and also render them helpless many times.
PCOS, especially is a complicated condition that brings with itself concerns surrounding pregnancy and type II diabetes. More effort needs to be made to empower and educate women about their own bodies and available treatment choices. While, there are doctors who are really good at imparting care in their progressional capacities, many fail to communicate adequately.