Helping Teenagers With Menstrual Pain

Painful periods are common around the world but, with treatment, should not cause a teenager to miss school, sports or social outings.

 

Period-related pain, medically known as dysmenorrhea, colloquially often called “cramps,” should not prevent an adolescent from participating fully in school, in sports, in social life. If that’s happening on a regular basis, she needs evaluation and help and support — from her family, and from the medical profession.

“Painful periods can be very debilitating; I’ve seen adolescents who come in in wheelchairs from endometriosis or dysmenorrhea, completely wiped out,” said Dr. Monica Woll Rosen, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School. “It’s real, but there is help out there. Don’t be discouraged.”

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about heavy menstrual periods in adolescents, and in particular the risk of anemia from ongoing blood loss, and the importance of checking for bleeding disorders, which can become evident in adolescence when menstruation starts. One of the doctors I interviewed, Dr. Claudia Borzutzky, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said: “Someone’s menstrual period should not be impairing them from leading a normal life, because we have really good treatments for pain and for heavy bleeding.”

Many readers wrote in to ask about particular diagnoses and problems they felt should have been spotlighted, noting that adolescents with problematic menstrual symptoms often go a long time without getting the appropriate medical care — either because they don’t ask, or because they’re told that their pain, or their infrequent periods, or their heavy periods, are just normal variants of menstruation, maybe especially in the early years.

 

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