News | Feature

“We’re expected to keep quiet about painful periods.”

08 Mar 2023

This International Women’s Day, a colleague shares her story of endometriosis and consultant gynaecologist Ms Ghada Salman discusses conditions connected to irregular or painful periods.

Every year on International Women’s Day (8 March), the world celebrates the achievements of women and calls for equity by challenging gender stereotypes, calling out discrimination and promoting inclusion.  

In addition, International Women’s Day also has a health-related mission of empowering women to make informed decisions about their health.

An example is that although many people with heavy or painful periods might be told that they’re ‘normal’ or that they will ‘grow out of them’, the symptoms may point to a treatable gynaecological condition.

This was the case for Phaik Gee Choo, a Senior Dietitian at The London Clinic, who was treated at our hospital for endometriosis after many years of  “normalising” her painful periods.  

“Since no one talked about it, I deemed my painful periods as normal,” says Phaik Gee. 

Eventually, Phaik Gee started to experience excruciating pain, even when she wasn’t menstruating. 

“After eventually having an MRI, my gynaecologist told me that I had been masking my symptoms for many years. I actually had deep infiltrative endometriosis,” says Phaik Gee.

Endometriosis is a condition where an endometrial-like tissue – the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus – grows outside of the uterus in areas such as the ovaries and pelvis.

In 2021, Mr Christopher Chan and Mr Arjun Jeyarajah performed a total hysterectomy, low anterior resection and a defunctioning ileostomy on Phaik Gee to remove the endometriosis. The outcome was a success. She is now pain-free, and passionate about empowering others to take control over their health.

“I would urge anyone who experiences painful periods to seek help. Endometriosis made me a stronger person, and the scar I have reminds me daily that I am a warrior,” says Phaik Gee.

Alongside endometriosis, painful periods are also symptoms of a range of gynaecological conditions, explains Consultant Gynaecologist Ms Ghada Salman.  These include fibroids and pelvic congestion syndrome.

In addition, heavy or irregular periods can also be symptoms of other gynaecological conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), perimenopause, endometriosis, and fibroids.

Ms Ghada Salman, Consultant Gynaecologist

Although many of these conditions share very similar symptoms, Ms Salman highlights that unique signs for each can help to identify the condition.

“In cases of PCOS, a patient may find it difficult to lose weight or have noticed an excess of hair growth on their face or body. But if someone has a feeling of pressure on their bowel and bladder, this could indicate fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths in the uterus,” says Ms Salman.

Varicose veins on the upper thigh and pelvis area are an indication of a condition known as pelvic congestion syndrome.

“Pelvic congestion syndrome isn’t as well-known as other gynaecological conditions. This can lead to many people not receiving effective treatment,” says Ms Salman.

It’s only natural to feel nervous or reticent about speaking to a gynaecologist with such personal symptoms, however, Ms Salman highly recommends doing so.

“If someone is experiencing any symptoms that are a cause for concern – including painful periods – they should discuss this with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. As in the case of many gynaecological conditions, the earlier they are investigated, the better the outcome is likely to be,” says Ms Salman.

“Not all symptoms for these conditions are experienced in the pelvis, so keep a note of any symptoms experienced, even if you don’t think they’re linked to a gynaecological issue. A detailed account can be extremely helpful for a healthcare professional to get to the root of the problem,” says Ms Salman.

If the details of this story resonate with you, and you want to take better control of your health, book a gynaecology appointment with Ms Ghada Salman.

Find out more about women’s health treatments and surgeries at The London Clinic.