GPs in Britain urged women and girls to be routinely asked about menstrual problems

Women and girls should be routinely asked about their periods during GP appointments to help improve treatment, health campaigners say.

Large numbers of girls experience periods so painful and disabling that they are unable to eat or sleep, miss school or are bedridden, according to new research from leading charity Wellbeing of Women. More than 90% of those surveyed said they had to change their plans due to heavy bleeding.

Their sometimes crippling experiences with symptoms show that current advice – for example that period pain will “wear off” as girls get older – is inadequate and needs to be updated, the charity said. Too many women and girls have symptoms that are dismissed by health professionals, it added.

The charity urged the NHS to routinely ask girls and women about their periods when accessing medical care – for example when registering with a GP, getting a vaccination or having a general health check.

The findings are based on responses from 3,001 girls in the UK, aged 12 to 18, when Wellbeing of Women – which is chaired by Prof. Dame Lesley Regan, the government’s health ambassador for England – asked how menstruation influenced them.

The research, conducted by Censuswide, found that 97% of girls experienced painful periods, with 42% experiencing ‘severe’ pain and 20% left bedridden. It also showed the mental health impact of painful periods on teenage girls, with 40% saying their symptoms left them feeling unmotivated, 39% anxious, 33% depressed and 31% angry. About one in ten (11%) said their symptoms made them feel like life wasn’t worth living.

skip the newsletter promotion

Prof Dame Lesley Regan, the Government’s ambassador for women’s health, is chair of Wellbeing of Women. Photo: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

“Discussions about menstrual health with healthcare professionals will help young women feel in control of their health journey, from their first period to their last,” says Janet Lindsay, CEO of Wellbeing of Women’s.

Dr. Nighat Arif, GP and ambassador for Wellbeing of Women, said that during her surgery she had seen many women who had waited years before seeking help for painful periods. “Even then, they faced long wait times for diagnosis and treatment. We hope that by providing girls with the information, tools and resources they need to seek help early on, they will receive help sooner and not suffer needlessly for years.”

Painful periods can be a symptom of endometriosis, a condition that can be disabling. A study last month found that women in Britain waited around nine years for a diagnosis of endometriosis.

The Royal College of GPs said GPs would talk sensitively and confidentially to girls or women who were concerned about periods affecting their lives and put together a treatment plan. Dr. Michael Mulholland, honorary secretary of the college, said: “GPs and our teams are often the first point of contact for women concerned about their menstrual or reproductive health, and we want all women to feel comfortable approaching us if they encountering problems. painful or difficult symptoms.”

“We recognize that painful periods can be a major source of discomfort and anxiety, and anyone who experiences this should speak to their GP or other medical professional. We always strive to do the best for our patients and are well trained to have open, confidential and honest conversations. We will always work to develop the best treatment plan.”

Wellbeing of Women wants to see a social ‘normalization’ of conversations about menstrual symptoms. Schools should provide boys and girls with better menstrual health education, ministers should launch a public health campaign to highlight menstruation-related issues, and all employers should have a women’s health policy to help staff experiencing problems, the charity said.