For a few days every month, when she got her monthly period, fifteen year old Manal* could barely endure the activities of a typical school day. The severe pain in her back and cramping in her abdomen made focusing in class difficult and rigorous activities like sports or P.E. nearly impossible.
Manal found a tiny bit of relief in over-the-counter pain relievers and warm compresses, but these were not enough to completely alleviate her symptoms. She started dreading her menses, knowing that for 4-5 days a month she would be in misery, wanting to stay in bed with a heating pad on her back, but forced to trudge through her daily routine.
When Manal spoke to her mother and friends about it, they offered sympathy but said that menstrual cramps were just an inevitable part of a woman’s life. With no solution in sight, Manal resigned herself to an extremely difficult monthly cycle. It seemed inevitable.
One day, on the morning of Eid, Manal woke with pain so severe that she felt nauseated and dizzy. The cramps were piercing, and she could barely walk down the hallway to tell her mother that she couldn’t attend Eid prayer. Her mother, alarmed at her daughter’s condition, rushed Manal to a local urgent care clinic. The attending doctor, who suspected a possible ruptured ovary, advised them to proceed immediately to a hospital emergency room. There, Manal was given an ultrasound and several other tests. Her diagnosis was not a ruptured ovary or other emergency situation, but dysmenorrhea: severe menstrual pain.
Could a monthly period cause so much agony? wondered Manal. Yes! According to an informative article by Dr. Jen Gunter, OBGYN “ . . . if you need an analogy to describe period pain, use labor or cutting your finger off without an anesthetic.”
One in four women, like Manal, will experience period pain that is so severe that it interferes with everyday activities. Possible symptoms include nausea, loose stools, dizziness, throbbing in the abdomen and/or back, and headache.
There are natural ways to relieve menstrual pain. Regular exercise, warm compresses, rest, and back/abdominal massage can be beneficial. Also, women with this dysmenorrhea should avoid caffeine and salt during their period. While these steps might offer some relief, if the pain is still interfering with everyday activities, then it is definitely time to see a doctor.
The first important step is to find a doctor who really listens to the patient, does not dismiss her complaints, and promises to get to the bottom of the problem. If a doctor says period pain is “just part of life,” then it is time to get a second opinion! Certain conditions associated with menstrual cramps can have complications, so dysmenorrhea should not be ignored. A good doctor will likely be able to determine exactly why a woman is experiencing severe cramps and also offer possible solutions and relief.
For Manal, many months of suffering could have been avoided if she and her family had sought professional help sooner. Manal now takes a medication to regulate her periods. The pain is much more manageable, but equally important, the doctor has ruled out any other serious conditions that would have required immediate medical intervention.
It Shouldn’t Be a Taboo
Menstruation is a taboo topic in some cultures, and unfortunately some young women feel embarrassed to talk about their monthly period pain with their parents, or even a doctor. The stigma about menses in some sectors of the Muslim community must end since it is un-Islamic and backwards. Islam unabashedly addresses women’s monthly cycles and has numerous rules and regulations related to it. In fact, a woman cannot practice her deen (religion) properly if she is not able to understand and discuss her period.
Why should anyone shame a woman for a part of her anatomy that Allah (SWT) created in His perfect wisdom? The Prophet (PBUH) treated his wives with the same courtesy and love when they had their menses as when they did not. He spoke openly about their periods and did not demonstrate any disgust or shyness about the topic. According to one hadeeth narrated by Al Qasim,
`Aisha said, ‘We set out with the sole intention of performing Hajj and when we reached Sarif, (a place six miles from Mecca) I got my menses. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) came to me while I was weeping. He said ‘What is the matter with you? Have you got your menses?’ I replied, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is a thing which Allah has ordained for the daughters of Adam. So do what all the pilgrims do with the exception of the Tawaf (Circumambulation) round the Ka`ba.” `Aisha added, “Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) sacrificed cows on behalf of his wives.’
Far from turning away in disgust or avoidance, the Prophet (PBUH) asked ‘Aisha directly about her condition and acknowledged that menses are a universal female condition. He listened and gave her straightforward advice on what to do next.
This is exactly how Muslims today should address the topic of menstruation: directly, practically, and without any humiliation. Particularly when extreme pain is involved, women must find the courage to speak up and keep insisting until they find someone to help. Their health and well-being are gifts from Allah SWT that they are required to look after, so taking action about dysmenorrhea is not only advisable but absolutely necessary.
*Name has been changed