Apparently your "monthly gift" has the ability to keep on giving. Scientists have found that women who have painful periods are more sensitive to pain throughout their cycles, even after the menstrual pain has subsided.
Oxford University researchers conducted a brain imaging study on 12 women who have painful periods and 12 women who don't. According to Science Daily, hot pads were placed on each subject's abdomen and inner arm while she was in an MRI scanner. The experiment was then repeated at several points during her cycle.
Researchers found that the women with painful periods were more sensitive to the hot pads, even if they weren't turned up as far. This was true even when the period pain had passed, which suggests that excruciating periods may lead to longer-lasting shift in how the body experiences pain.
The changes in how pain is processed mirrored those found in people with chronic pain conditions. Also like in chronic pain sufferers, the subjects had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and the amount matched up with how long the women had been experiencing painful periods. Study author Dr. Katy Vincent concluded, "Many of the features of chronic pain conditions are present in women with painful periods, even though the pain is experienced for just a few days every month."
The study says that 90% of women experience painful periods at some point in their lives. (That number sounds high, but isn't that "I want to stab my uterus" feeling something every woman has experienced?) They're particularly common among adolescents and young women, but the problem often isn't taken seriously. Dr. Vincent says teens are least likely to seek treatment — a fact I know all too well! My mom may be right that I generally have a ridiculously low pain tolerance, but I've subsequently learned that when your middle schooler regularly wimpers in a fetal position for hours and has to miss school, it's time to introduce her to the gynecologist. The researchers say their findings show that since painful periods can disrupt women's lives and change the way they experience pain, they should be checked out and treated. I'm happy to hear doctors telling women that they shouldn't have to suffer through extreme period pain just because it's normal, even if this information would have been more useful to me in 1997.
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