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International Women’s Day 2023: Raising awareness of women who experience dysmenorrhoea (painful periods)

It’s International Women’s Day 2023, so as a follow on from our activities last year on the Menopause, this year we wanted to write a blog to raise awareness of dysmenorrhoea (painful periods).

According to a fact sheet released by Women’s Health Concern, 80% of women will experience period pain at some point in their lives. But for around 5-10% of women, this pain is so severe it disrupts their daily lives.

Dysmenorrhoea – the medical term for ‘painful periods’

As the Women’s Health Concern fact sheet highlights, period pain can affect many women, but it also outlines the two types:

  • Primary dysmenorrhoea is more commonly experienced during teenage and young adulthood years. And is ‘a perfectly natural condition and for many women is simply a mild monthly discomfort’, i.e. it is not caused by a specific condition.
  • Secondary dysmenorrhoea often starts later in a woman’s life and can be a sign of an underlying health condition. The pain is not restricted to when a woman is menstruating, as it can happen at other times during their cycle. Periods may also be heavier and more prolonged.

What conditions cause secondary dysmenorrhoea?

According to Bupa, there are a number of conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhoea, including.

  • Endometriosis: a condition whereby cells similar to the lining of the womb (uterus) or endometrium can grow outside of the uterus. It is also the most common cause of secondary dysmenorrhoea.

Read our latest blog to learn more about the condition and Endometriosis Action Month, which takes place each March.

  • Fibroids (also sometimes known as uterine myomas or leiomyomas): are non-cancerous growths that are made up of muscle and fibrous tissue which develop in the womb (uterus). They vary in size considerably, from the size of a pea to the size of a melon, and women can have a single fibroid or multiple.

According to the NHS, they are thought to be linked to the hormone oestrogen, as they usually develop during reproductive years, however they most often occur in women aged 30-50. Two in three women will develop at least one fibroid in their life, and they are also thought to develop more frequently in women of African-Caribbean origin.

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: an infection in your uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes, and sometimes your ovaries. It is often caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and doesn’t always cause symptoms, so some people don’t realise they have it.
  • Adenomyosis: a condition where glands that are usually in the lining of the womb also grow inside the walls of the womb. It also causes the womb to be slightly larger in size, and can cause heavy periods with cramps.
  • An intrauterine device (IUD): a contraceptive that is also known as the copper coil, can sometimes cause secondary dysmenorrhoea.

What symptoms are associated with dysmenorrhoea?

Primary dysmenorrhoea symptoms include tiredness, feeling sick or being sick, diarrhoea, a headache or feeling light-headed, bloating and emotional symptoms.

While secondary dysmenorrhoea symptoms are associated with symptoms including heavy or irregular periods and bleeding in-between periods. Also, the pain can be more severe and, as outlined above, take place during the cycle as well as during menstruation.

Europe’s first 'menstrual leave' law has just been passed in Spain

As highlighted above, 80% of women will experience period pain at some point in their lives, which means many women across the world are suffering in silence at work each month.

But in February 2023, Spain passed a law – a first for Europe –  that gives women ‘the right to a three-day “menstrual” leave of absence’, as this article in Euronews.net explains. Some women may also be able to extend their leave to five days if they have ‘disabling periods, which can cause severe cramps, nausea, dizziness and even vomiting’.

What does the new law mean for working women?

As outlined in the Euronews.net article, ‘the law states that the new policy will help combat the stereotypes and myths that still surround periods and hinder women's lives.’ But there have been some reservations from unions in Spain, who say it could have a negative impact in the long run, for example, women having to prove they have conditions such as endometriosis to get the leave.

However, one positive outcome is that the world is talking about painful periods. And it’s created awareness that Spain is not the only country, region or organisation with menstrual leave laws or policies in place.

According to this article in The Washington Post, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan all offer menstrual leave. As does Modibodi in Australia, Nuvento in the US and Zomato in India.

Why are ILX raising awareness of dysmenorrhoea for International Women’s Day, 2023?

In 2022 we published a blog last year called ‘The need for more support at work for women going through the menopause’, in support of International Women’s Day. So, this year, we wanted to highlight another debilitating condition which affects many women and young women worldwide.

Last year we introduced flexible working for our hybrid office-based workforce. This is because we recognise the importance of a work life balance for all our employees. But it also means that if a female colleague is experiencing any symptoms of dysmenorrhoea (on a day they would normally go into the office), they can work from home in an environment they feel more comfortable in.

At ILX we've also been doing a lot of work on diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I). Find out more about our DE&I group here.