Health & Wellness – Your Period

By Lisa Van De Ven

WHATEVER YOU CHOOSE TO CALL IT, MENSTRUATION IS JUST ANOTHER PART OF WOMANHOOD – BUT ONE THAT MANY WOMEN WOULD LOVE TO LEAVE BEHIND. For some, it’s only a few days each month of inconvenience. For others, it’s a wrenchingly painful ordeal that seems to last a lifetime.

Regardless, we’ve come a long way– and menstruation doesn’t have to be what it once was. Today, we have lots of options for our periods. In addition to tampons and pads in all their shapes, sizes and absorbency levels, there’s also the menstrual cup, which comes in either disposable or reusable forms. There’s pain relief for cramping, and even the option of skipping periods altogether, if that’s your preference. One thing is for certain: there’s a lot to know about your monthly cycle and plenty of questions. “It’s one of those issues that just comes up a lot,” says Dr. Miriam Kaufman, adolescent health specialist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She gets plenty of period-related questions in her day-to-day
dealings. “It’s almost one of those universal things.”

How do you choose between tampons, pads or the menstrual cup – which is placed inside to collect menstrual flow – for your monthly cycle?
According to Dr. Wendy Wolfman, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto, it’s all a matter of what you feel most comfortable with. A pad might feel
more comfortable to someone who has never had sex. “If you’re not sexually active, there are variations of comfort when inserting a tampon,” Wolfman says. “I don’t have many of my patients using a cup . . . I think someone who’s not sexually active would probably find it more difficult.”

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How heavy should a period be? Is it okay that you miss some months? Is it okay that you don’t? The answer to all of those questions – questions Kaufman often hears – is, “there’s huge variation.”

Some women are regular right from the beginning, others aren’t. Some experience bad cramps and mood swings, others don’t have any side effects at all. Some flow light, while others are heavy enough that they’re changing their tampon every hour. While none of these symptoms are weird or different, some might require a trip to your doctor. A period that’s too heavy could
lead to anemia. Extreme cramping could be a sign of endometriosis, a medical condition where cells that are supposed to be inside the uterus are, instead, outside. Endometriosis isn’t common in young women, but it isn’t out of the question, either. “It gets more common as you get older,” Kaufman says.

While mostly unrelated to endometriosis, painful cramping is one of the most common concerns Kaufman comes across. “Studies have shown that the pressures inside the uterus during menstruation, and in people who have cramps, can be as high or even higher than a woman in labour,” she says. So what can a woman do besides just grin and bear it? Ibuprofen,
a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that relieves pain, is often the first go-to – whether it be an over-the-counter solution such as Advil or Motrin, or a stronger, prescribed version. One of
the most prescribed solutions for bad cramping, is the birth control pill, which suppresses ovulation completely. While there are side effects – blood clotting, on occasion, especially for those women with a family history – the pill has come a long way in recent years.

For teens and young women, parental reaction can still be an issue. “Sometimes parents worry that their daughter is going to have sex, because she’s on the pill, so she might as well,” Kaufman says. “Personally, I don’t think that happens.” For those girls who’d rather avoid their periods for a month or two, the pill also allows you to skip it altogether. While not always completely effective – some bleeding might still occur – taking birth control continuously, without the weeklong break built into most cycles, can cut out your period completely, without any known side effects. This – or other options, like Depo-Provera – might also be an answer for women with heavy flows. Just be careful what you wish for. “When you do something to suppress your period, it often makes you feel uneasy, like something is not right in their body,” the doctor says.