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When Will GPs Start Taking Period Problems Seriously?


When Will GPs Start Taking Period Problems Seriously?

8 years. That’s the average time, according to Endometriosis UK, that it takes someone to get a diagnosis of endometriosis. But this isn’t an issue unique to endometriosis.

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3rd November 2021

Whether it’s PCOS, fibroids or hormone imbalances, women and those who have periods, are sadly finding their health conditions dismissed, while also having to wait many years for answers. That is, if they get any answers at all. Jenna Farmer speaks to some of those who have struggled to get to the bottom of their period problems.

The gender pain bias

One of the reasons so many gynaecological conditions like endometriosis go undiagnosed is gender pain bias. When it comes to period problems, severe pain is sometimes explained away as being normal or is dismissed as a mere exaggeration. There’s proof that when it comes to pain, women just aren’t taken as seriously: one study found that when going to hospital with severe pain, women were less likely to be prescribed painkillers compared to men. 

They were also made to wait a lot longer to see a doctor. Whilst some cramping during your period is normal, severe pain that prevents you from going about your day is not. But the problem comes when many GPs just don’t believe the pain in the first place. This can lead to lengthy delays in diagnosis, while the anxiety around not feeling believed massively impacts our mental health. 


“Women are left in agonising pain because it’s ‘normal’ and by the time they’re diagnosed, endometriosis has progressed rapidly which leaves many of us with few treatments.” says blogger Zoe, who regularly talks about life with endometriosis on her instagram account, The Hannah Family.

Many aren’t listened to about period problems

Awareness around gynaecological problems encourages women to listen to their bodies. However, what if you know there’s an issue, yet your GP won’t listen? Whilst many GPs are supportive, we only have to look at reports to show that women can be dismissed when trying to be proactive about their health. For example, when studying heart attacks, it was found women were 50% more likely to receive the wrong diagnosis than men. 

 “It took me ages to find someone who listened and understood my stupidly heavy and long periods.” explains one user to me on instagram, who has PCOS. “ In my teens, I was told it would settle in a few years. It finally took breaking down into tears to be listened to.”

 Tracey Morgan was also ignored by her GP for years and had her period problems blamed on depression and IBS. “They told me I was depressed. I went back again and asked for a referral and she said to me: “you are wasting my time and their time but I’ll do it to shut you up.” Tracey went on to be diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis, has had several surgeries and is waiting for another. The impact of feeling unheard is huge. “I felt like I was going crazy. At one stage I thought ‘this is my life now and I’m creating this in my head, I really don’t think I can carry on.’ Realising I’d been gaslighted made me relieved and absolutely furious” she adds.

But doctors should take all of your concerns seriously and, if they don’t, consider asking to see another. “If you have any new, unusual or irregular bleeding that you are worried about or that persists beyond 3 months it should be discussed with your doctor and in all of these cases your doctor should take your concerns seriously. If you think your doctor is not taking your concerns seriously, you can seek another opinion.” advises Dr Mel from theldown.com

The pill isn’t a fix-all for period problems

Another issue is the speed in which some doctors prescribe the pill. Hormone contraception undoubtedly has its uses and may be beneficial in reducing some period problems. “There’s plenty of research evidence to show the combined pill can help with heavy periods, painful periods and other symptoms.” explains Dr Mel from theldown.com; the world’s first review platform for contraception. 

1 million women in the UK may be on the wrong contraceptive pill

However, issues arise when women feel they’re simply prescribed it without being listened to about their period problems or even knowing if it’s actually the right pill for them. A report by Dazed found one million women in the UK may be on the wrong contraceptive pill.

“Before prescribing the pill, healthcare professionals should ask about your periods and any unusual or irregular bleeding. They will be looking to rule out conditions which do need immediate investigations such as sexually transmitted infections or rarely gynaecological cancers.” adds Dr Mel.

It’s important that the pill isn’t prescribed it simply as a shortcut to avoid necessary investigations; such as laparoscopies and ultrasounds which can help diagnose problems with the ovaries or uterus, such as polyps, fibroids as well as long-term conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis. Without the necessary tests, these problems may go on for longer; increasing symptoms, possibly impacting fertility and being harder to treat.

Melissa Holmes was one of these; prescribed the pill to deal with horrendous periods at just 14 years old. “I was passing out and experiencing blood loss. After being fobbed off with this and years of pain relief drugs, I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis at 27 and was told I’d never have children,” explains Melissa.  Happily, Melissa went on to have a child shortly afterwards but says she still doesn’t feel doctors take her condition seriously.

Are gynaecological conditions being missed?

The Telegraph reports that Nearly half of women visit their GP 10 times before being diagnosed with a gynaecological condition suggesting many are having to fight to get their condition recognised. Part of this is that period problems are common (and often aren’t serious) and waiting lists are long-leaving many left in limbo, such as Francesca Cox who I spoke to over Instagram.

I’m having severe period pains and pain during sex and my GP didn’t even bother to do a referral because the wait was a year long

Others go on to be offered tests but not the correct ones for their condition. “I complained for years to my GP that my periods were heavy and very painful. I had four colposcopies and sigmoidoscopies but nothing was found. They put me on the pill and told me to deal with it. 10 years later and still in pain, I had a lap and dye test to find out why I couldn’t conceive and they found endometriosis all over my pelvic and uterus; which hadn’t even been considered.” says Jolene Phillips Howells who runs the funny card shop Obscenity Cards. After lasering away as much of the disease as they could, Jolene went on to conceive her first child eight months later.

Of course, not everyone who presents with period problems will need tests. “The combined oral contraceptive pill can be used to manage symptoms and in some cases, treating these kinds of symptoms (such as irregular periods with PCOS and heavy or painful periods with endometriosis) without investigating for a diagnosis, can be reasonable.” advises Dr Mel. 

Yet at the same time, not everybody wants to take the pill and others are anxious about finding the cause before starting any treatment. “I don’t want to take the pill or take a tablet to mask the symptoms, I want my mind put to rest that there’s nothing wrong,” explains another user to me on Instagram.

A diagnosis doesn’t mean treatment

After waiting so long for it, receiving a concrete diagnosis is often almost exciting. Surely now there will be treatment and solutions to take away the pain? But it’s not always the case.

 Natasha Caller was diagnosed with PCOS ten years ago but says that doctors aren’t interested in helping unless she’s trying to conceive. “They just keep telling me to take the pill and when I said I didn’t want to, they said they couldn’t help me and I should just get in touch when I want a baby. I really struggle with symptoms and get very very little (help) from my GP, I really struggle to get them to understand how much it impacts my life.” explains Natasha.

Martha Claire, who has had PCOS since she was 15 agrees. “When I was diagnosed, I asked what it meant for me. He turned back around and said I didn’t need to worry about it until I wanted to get pregnant. I’m currently getting pain, no one knows why and I now have a two year wait for a diagnostic laparoscopy to see if it’s endometriosis too.” she adds.

Others find themselves blamed for lifestyle choices rather than supported with treatments. “I have PCOS and have had laparoscopic operations to manage the cysts that developed on my ovaries.” explains Tammy Davidson, a Psychotherapist and Transformation Life Coach for Women. “I was told it would resolve itself once I had a baby-but I did not want a baby then!” In her 30s, when wanting to start a family, Tammy found PCOS made trying to conceive difficult and went through a decade of fertility treatment. “Rather than treat and understand my PCOS, the advice was to lose weight or take the pill. It’s a struggle to get them to understand the impact on my day to day life; I’ve been left feeling the medical profession doesn't fully understand the female reproductive system enough.” she adds.

So what is the solution for those who find themselves without a diagnosis or treatment for their period problems? Firstly, as Dr Mel advises, pushing for a second opinion is acceptable so go back to your doctors and ask to speak to a different practitioner. Keeping track of your periods can help provide a record and always keep up to date with any smear tests.

Like many aspects of female healthcare, advocating for your body is key

“If I can give you one piece of advice it is this-be an advocate for your own health.” explains Tracey Morgan who has endometriosis. We know our own bodies and menstrual cycles best so if you feel something isn’t quite right, don’t take no for an answer and keep searching for an answer.

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