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The Crohn’s girl’s guide to dealing with periods

by Emily Barr

Women with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis experience even more painful symptoms of their period and Crohn’s for a few days every single month.

As if they couldn’t get any worse, ladies with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis experience even more painful symptoms of not only their period, but also Crohn’s for a few days every single month. When that time of the month rolls around you can find most girls curled up in a ball clutching their stomachs, cursing their womanhood and demanding strange combinations of junk and sweet food to ease their pain. That’s right, I’m talking about periods. Before, during and after a woman’s period, she is likely to experience unpleasant symptoms such as moodiness, abdominal pain, cramps, headache, fatigue, back pain, bloating, tenderness of the breasts…the list goes on and on.

More than half of women with Crohn’s experience more severe symptoms, and are also likely to report a worsening of the already existing uncomfortable bodily functions that come with being a sufferer of this illness. The most notable symptom of Crohn’s that occurs for female patients in conjunction with their premenstrual and menstrual periods is diarrhoea. Furthermore, if you’re one of those girls who bravely endure abnormally excruciating menstrual symptoms, otherwise known as dysmenorrhoea, you’re actually more likely to also have an inflammatory bowel disorder, such as Crohn’s disease.

It is also important to note that it is not only the experience of menstruation that can be a cause of great stress and pain for those with an IBD, the time leading up to a girl getting her first period also proves troublesome. These sorts of diseases have been shown to have a direct and causal effect on the onset and progression of puberty.

A study published in the Journal of Paediatrics found that almost three-quarters of females with Crohn’s got their period at or after the age of 16. This is significant as it is typically expected for a girl to get her period at around the age of 12. This delayed puberty can sometimes be a trigger for social stress, anxiety and low self-esteem. Remember though, IBD patient or not, puberty is a very personal period in a young boy or girl’s life that no two people experience in exactly the same way. If you find yourself becoming preoccupied with your development in comparison to that of your peers, find comfort in the fact that, thanks to advancements in Crohn’s medication, studies demonstrate that most children with Crohn’s will eventually reach average adult heights. And in terms of periods, with time, the menstrual irregularities that women with Crohn’s suffer are also likely to dissipate, which can be attributed to medication as well.

Menstruation can be a cause of stress and pain for a woman with Crohn’s that begins in early adolescence and persists through adult life. But, this doesn’t need to be the case. By the sharing stories, information and raising awareness of the struggles endured by our brave ladies with Crohn’s, we hope to make their voices heard and allow them to seek the help they need and are worthy of.

Melissa Lord, 35, from Queensland, shared her experience of living with Crohn’s and monthly struggle of periods.

“I always knew when my period was coming, for the few days beforehand, and of course, during that time of the month, I experienced increased bouts of diarrhoea, cramping, and general frequency of toilet visits. It was like clockwork. And sometimes quite nasty (especially if I was at work), smelly and painful. It wasn’t unusual to suffer from fatigue with my Crohn’s, however during this one week each month, I always felt more tired, lethargic and pretty much drained of everything.

Luckily I never really had heavy periods, but they definitely increased my Crohn’s symptoms nonetheless. Painkillers, hot water bottles or hot wheat bags and rest, was all I could use to try and find comfort.

My periods were affected in other ways as well. Due to flare-ups and medications, there were months where I wouldn’t get my period. The longest I went without a period was around eight months, – while it was great over summer (haha!) I was always concerned. In the end, it was probably just my body’s way of protecting itself.”

It is recommended to speak to a doctor about any queries you may have about Crohn’s and its effect on menstruation, or, on the other hand, menstruation’s effect on Crohn’s. If you’re experiencing high levels of pain during your menstrual cycle and the hot water bottle and chocolates just aren’t cutting it, they’ll be able to recommend appropriate medication to take in conjunction with your regular Crohn’s medication. If you’re a young person who is concerned about the rate of your development, a visit to a doctor or specialist will allow them to assess your growth and measure any abnormalities. It may also be helpful to seek counselling if it is affecting your self-esteem or ability to socialise.

Posted on: February 23 2018

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