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Doctors Have Finally Said That Menstrual Cramps Can Be As Painful As Heart Attacks

I have had many bouts of horrific searing gas pain in my life, but let's face it, I can generally avoid that by just not eating Taco Bell — and I find that now that I no longer run for the border, I seldom run for the bathroom, either.

Unfortunately, there's a large segment of the population who can count on searing, horrific pain every single month. Doctors have only just confirmed that they are, in fact, in considerable pain — and worse than a colon raging against a spicy burrito.

As sure as the tides, post-puberty and pre-menopausal women can count on a monthly visitor.

Periods are natural, basic facts of life, just part of owning a uterus. But for about one in every five women, periods come with agonizing, debilitating pain that, as much as they try to soldier through, greatly affects their lives.

Although so many women suffer through such awful pain, little is actually known about why these women experience so much pain.

In fact, until recently, even the degree of pain a bout of dysmenorrhea could cause was controversial.

Many doctors are taught that ibuprofen should be enough to combat the pain, according to Frank Tu, the director of gynecological pain at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Many women report having their period pain simply dismissed by their doctors.

However, as John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London told Quartz, the pain can be "almost as bad as having a heart attack." It doesn't get much more serious than that.

Clearly a doctor isn't going to tell you to take ibuprofen to combat a heart attack's pain.

So what can be done to ease the intense pain?

Well, anti-inflammatory drugs have indeed been shown to help, as does taking birth control continually — basically eliminating or reducing the flow of periods — and topical heat like the good ol' hot water bottle as well.

There are other sources of period pain than dysmenorrhea — particularly endometriosis, which affects up to 10% of women.

And when the pain comes from endometriosis, some women have gone as far as having a hysterectomy to relieve the pain, and even that isn't 100% successful.

What remains less clear is the reason for such pain to occur in the first place.

Endometriosis has been studied, but little research has been done on the causes of dysmenorrhea, so doctors aren't entirely sure what triggers it.

As troubling as that is, it's the lack of research that should really give us pause here.

One in five women translates to a whole lot of people, in the millions. So why isn't this being studied?

It's not like there aren't researchers trying. Dr. Richard Legro of Penn State's College of Medicine, has been trying to look into treating dysmenorrhea with sildenafil — better known as Viagra — but he can't find the funding.

"I've applied three or four times but it always gets rejected," he told Quartz.

Guillebaud chalks it up to the fact that, quite simply, men don't suffer from it.

"Men don't get it and it hasn't been given the centrality it should have," he said. "I do believe it's something that should be taken care of, like anything else in medicine."

He also notes that female doctors can be just as dismissive as male doctors.

"I think some women doctors can be a bit unsympathetic because either they don't get it themselves or if they do get it they think, 'Well, I can live with it, so can my patient.'"

That last point may be the key — too many women are suffering silently, when in fact they should be making noise.

"We need to talk about it on Oprah and national TV," Legro said. "This is nothing to be ashamed of, it's a common disorder, and it shouldn't be ignored."

h/t Quartz