Menstrual nightmare hell
August 12, 2016 1:03 AM   Subscribe

My periods are ruining my life. What is going on?

I used to be one of those jerks who had dream periods, I never got cramps, had only light bleeding, and generally my mood was fine. Now as I approach 30, it feels like my period is getting worse and worse every time it happens. My PMS is unbearable.

I have experience with depression and anxiety, but this is a different feeling, it's like all my emotional skin has been removed and everything is raw. I feel incapable of making logical decisions about anything, I'm unable to think clearly and constantly on the verge of tears or a panic attack. It effects my job, daily life, and relationships, until it's over and it doesn't. I basically have to put off thinking for two weeks because I'm going to make rash, emotional choices that I will later look back on like "What?"

This happens for at least 10 days before my period begins and then also during my period, even when bleeding has stopped. I usually bleed very heavily for three days and then still have the emotional symptoms with no blood until the week is over. This is what worries me, most of the information available seems to be concerned only with before your period, not during or slightly after. I don't know if what's happening is normal, even if it has become normal for me.

There's a history of PMDD in my family, so that's not something totally new to me as a possibility. The next appointment I can get with a GYN is in three to four months and I don't presently take birth control. I feel like I'm losing my mind. It would really be helpful to know if other uterus-having people have experience with this.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously, you need to see a gynecologist to see if there's anything serious going on.

Just my opinion, I never got cramps -- when people told me about it, I totally did not get what they were saying. Like, what? Then in my late 20s, I got my first cramp, in which I felt like I was going to die, and I was like, ohhh NOW I see what all the fuss is about, and why you need ibuprofen/ painkillers. Saw a doctor, got a scan, all fine. Just normal changes.

This website helped reassure me.
posted by moiraine at 1:17 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you able to see a trusted GP in the meanwhile? It definitely sounds like your hormones have changed with age, which is a thing that happens.

You're not alone, study on/around this is woefully inadequate. I had a terrible time as well (before, during, after) and part of it was definitely finding the right doctors. If a GP (or gyno!) brushes you off or tries to redefine your experiences, don't go to them again.

In my case, a medrogestone pill has completely changed my life. Before that, I'd been prescribed a third-generation pill (mine used gestodene) that helped a bit, but I still had pretty bad PMS (pre- and post- really). The gyno who prescribed me medrogestone loves seeing me because every single time I visit I'm like "OMG I have a life again, thank you thank you thank you." Then we go over every symptom I no longer have – this is the kind of doc that helps change things. It's definitely helped her treat other women in similar straits. Do keep in mind everyone is different though, and the absolute best thing you can do is to be upfront and drop any doctor who won't listen.
posted by fraula at 1:17 AM on August 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, this was me too! The mildest periods ever as a youngster and then steadily worse from the age of 25, until at 30 every month I would be crippled with pain, emotionally calamitous, and depressed for days.

I can't explain why this happens, but I can tell you that it completely changed when I went back onto the pill after a decade off it. I'm on Microgynon (a combined pill) for two years now, and I have slightly weird moods for a day at the most, sometimes none, very occasional cramps and nausea, not to mention predictable periods! Yay :D

Honestly I can't recommend it enough. I've got friends who claim it's "not natural" but you know what? Nature sort of intended us to breed a lot so you could say putting your body through the drama of a period without a break for years and years is also unnatural. I run my pills on quite often now, so I probably only have 7 or 8 periods per year, and feel absolutely bloody brilliant (pun intended).
posted by greenish at 2:25 AM on August 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, a similar thing happened to me around 30 and this was even with being on the same birth control pill for a decade. I went to the doctor who prescribed a different type of birth control pill and that sorted it out.
posted by Polychrome at 3:53 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Count me as another vote that sometimes this might just be age related. I had relatively easy periods that caused me only mild discomfort, turned 30 and boom - period of nightmares.

Always, always, get a doctor involved - though. If not your normal GYN, see if another can get you in.. or at least ask your primary care doctor to do some blood tests.
posted by INFJ at 3:56 AM on August 12, 2016

Also changed around 30 here. I was a kid cramps so bad that I threw up, but then that stopped. Now every few months I get flu like symptoms, painful joints, fatigue, and nausea. I had to go on the ibuprofen + panadol/acetaminophen combo just to get anything done.

Magnesium helps, but I have to remember to take it about five days before my period.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:57 AM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

(Assuming you are in the US)

Do you have access to a Planned Parenthood? You should be able to get an appointment with a GYN more quickly through them.

In the meantime, if you want to try hormonal birth control to see if it helps (my guess based on anecdotal evidence is that it would, especially since you can use it to reduce your total number of periods), there are some apps and websites (here is one) that will prescribe it legally without an office visit.
posted by telegraph at 4:01 AM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Much, much sympathy to you! I finally joined MeFi just to post a response. I had a hysterectomy last year because PMS almost killed me (I am absolutely not joking), so please do get this checked out.

What started me on the road to getting this sorted was stumbling on Ms. Jekyll & Hyde; she writes about this in great detail. For me, it was like restarting my life every couple of weeks (fun fact, you can also have PMS-type symptoms around ovulation...) -- no matter what I did or how hard I tried, everything would collapse and I'd have to spend a couple days hiding on the couch under a blanket and trying not to hurt myself.

Best of luck to you -- happy to talk more about this if you like.
posted by diffuse at 4:56 AM on August 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Might be worth your while to look into stopping them altogether.
posted by flabdablet at 5:07 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ohmygod this thread is incredibly reassuring to me. I'm 35 now, and I also noticed that around age 30 my periods started getting worse - I went from mild-to-no cramps to intense-agony-shooting-down-my-leg cramps as I got older. It sucks, but you're not alone.

(I never did serious medical investigation - I mentioned to my doc that my cramps were getting worse as I aged, they shrugged, and I just take lots of inadequate painkillers for 1-2 days out of the month nowadays.)
posted by 168 at 5:26 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

HOLY SHIT you guys. I'm going through the exact same thing and never thought it could be PMDD and now I have to ask my gyno.

I am getting my Mirena IUD removed (after 4 years) because I thought it was THAT giving me Jekyl & Hyde symptoms. Like: as in nearly pushing my marriage to the brink of divorce, monthly.

Hugs to all of you. Thank you thank you thank you. I'm giving this thread to my husband to read... it could have just been me growing into my 30s hormones all along. I'm going to check it out.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:49 AM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Re: painkillers. If your periods are predictable (my cycle when not on the pill went from anywhere between 20-30 days, so I totally get anyone who read that and went "hahahahaha nope"), one big help is starting to take 200mg of ibuprofen twice a day, two days before your cramping usually starts. For whatever weird reason – this has been told to me in those terms by five different GPs and gynos, FWIW – it dulls the onset of cramps. It really works.

Also, if you're in a country where it's prescribed, I've found the antispasmodic phloroglucinol to be magical. It stops the cramps at their source, rather than "just" dulling the pain like ibuprofen does.

Also be careful with ibuprofen; at one point I realized my cramps were worsening with it because it was messing with my stomach (I was taking acceptable doses and always after eating food, never on an empty stomach). Strangely it worked better to take it the couple of days in anticipation, and then not take any while having cramps.

hugs to all of you who've been through this hell.
posted by fraula at 5:56 AM on August 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't take Ibuprofen because I like to drink wine and the combination of alcohol and over the counter painkillers is liver murder.
Luckily fish oil works the same way to kill pain without the toxic side effects. You can take too much fish oil so consult your health care practitioner about dosage. But better yet EAT MORE FISH.
...and seconding what everyone else is saying about finding the right birth control pill that will solve your hormone fluctuations.
posted by cda at 7:00 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

For kanata & others who are maybe thinking about hysterectomies, my understanding is that before they refer you for that, they like you to go on GnrH therapy (basically drugs that mimic menopause -- so they can tell if you really do improve once PMS is out of the picture; please note that things like birth control pills or Mirena don't completely shut down the hormone factory in that sense! So if your PMS is really bad, they won't help). Which in my case meant an injection in my butt monthly, heh, but really did show that it was PMS that was the issue (which I knew!). Anyway, that would give you a bit of a picture as to how you would react in menopause. I had both ovaries removed so I do use HRT, which seems to be treating me fine, after some tweaking of the dose & requisite adjustment time.

I'm impressed that your GP got you that far, kanata! The GP I had when I started working on this wasn't v. sympathetic, but luckily was at least willing to refer me onwards to people who knew what they were doing.

Also OP, just to say please do be persistent in trying to get medical folks to help you work this out! Lots of people think PMS = lolz & aren't really helpful. I had to fight for years to sort this out -- don't give up!

(More info on GnrH & other treatment stuff in medical-speak here [PDF])
posted by diffuse at 7:42 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the PDF from the Royal College, diffuse!!!!!!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:51 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yet another person here for whom periods accelerated into madness around my 30th birthday. I'm now 32, and earlier this summer I had surgery to remove a lemon-sized endometrioma and another adhesion from one of my ovaries. My male GP dismissed my pain and other symptoms as "normal" or "could be psychological in nature" and told me to take ibuprofen and calm down. If this happens to you, keep on seeking answers until someone takes you seriously.

A note on hormonal birth control: my amazing OB/GYN prescribed them to me to "calm down my ovaries" and they did help. She also explained that my body was in kind of a WTF mode because I've never been pregnant, and apparently after three decades everything goes haywire because female bodies were built for pregnancy, childbirth, and/or death prior to the ripe elderly age of 32. And if you try to use your body for anything else, such as a career or fun sexual relationships, it will be angry and lash out.
posted by witchen at 8:01 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have endometriosis and have been on continuous birth control for 2+ years. It took some doing to find a pill that I wouldn't have breakthrough bleeding on, but now that I have, I haven't had a period LITERALLY IN YEARS. It is so fantastic. There's no reason that you need to have periods; if you were a cavewoman, you'd have lots of long stretches of being pregnant/breastfeeding without having periods, instead of having a period every month for 30-some years like we do. I can't recommend this highly enough.

I also used to have terrible mood swings with my period, and some formulations of the pill made it worse, but this one is golden for me. It's both a good and a bad thing that there are so many different kinds of hormonal birth control -- if one doesn't work, there's dozens more to try. But you might eventually hit the jackpot and it's worth it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:05 AM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I experienced the same thing as I got older. Taking a 50mg B6 supplement throughout the month seems to help a lot for me. I generally take a B-complex supplement that has 50mg of most of the B vitamins from Trader Joe's. 50mg is above the RDA but B vitamins are water soluble so it's safe to take more. Studies I've seen used 40 or 50mg. Take the supplements in the morning because some of the B vitamins can keep you up at night if you take them too late in the day.

The effects of B6 are supported by a few studies, but the studies were not of the best quality which is perhaps why this is not a more popular PMS treatment.

There are some newer studies which measured the effects of B6 plus calcium and B6 plus magnesium which showed that all were helpful. Amounts for those were 500mg of calcium and 250mg of magnesium, but if I could only take one I'd take the B6.

This is not a substitute for other treatment, but if you can't see your doctor for a few months anyway, it's certainly worth trying.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:53 AM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

The cramping/pain issues can be pretty well-managed with the suggestions above. It's the emotional stuff that you're a bit more concerned about, right?

I'm another one who's had the same experience, only mine really got worse in my mid 30s. I've managed the emotional component with Magnesium (take the gel caps... they're more effective, and MUCH easier to take than those chalky horse pills). If you take it on a regular basis, you'll notice the difference when your cycle rolls around next time. You can increase the dosage on really bad days (I think I've taken about 800 mg in one day before).

Get a note from your doctor. It might not hurt to let a trusted co-worker know what's going on. If you can trust your boss, let them know (that's where the doctor's note comes in handy). That way when the emotional crap hits the fan, at least you're not "crazy", it's a medical condition. It's helpful to everyone at your workplace if someone can support you. Best of luck- I understand how hard this is!
posted by Mistress of the Bunnies at 9:42 AM on August 12, 2016

If you live in a place with access to medical marijuana, I'd highly recommend trying that in addition to or while you find something more permanent. Be picky about where you get it, make sure they know the medical uses--you can try something for the cramps or something for the anxiety/depression, and if you're lucky you will find a strain that does both. I'm on an anti depressant which is supposed to be helpful for PMS (Effexor) but anti depressants take a long time to get right. My pms often manifests as rage, so for me taking up an "angry" sport (weightlifting, boxing, rugby) and eating plenty of fat and protein helps. And just giving yourself permission to feel like crap and really leaning into the feeling itself without making it "about" anything in your life. Good luck.
posted by it's FuriOsa, not FurioSA at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2016

For me, menstrual life started with the periods from hell. Then it got better and I really did not know why. I had made dietary changes for unrelated reasons and it became clear that diet made a difference when I temporarily "partied" as a send off for someone, ate more junk and my next period was awful.

So, in addition to other good advice here, you might try keeping a food journal.
posted by Michele in California at 11:26 AM on August 12, 2016

You might try an herbal tincture to regulate the fall and rise of your hormone levels. It's a mild, effective alternative to going on the Pill. (I've had heavy, irregular, combative periods my whole life. This leveled me out when nothing else would! After 3 months of use I was able to maintain "normal" cycles for over a year with no side effects.)

Sample ingredients

Phase I: black cohosh root, dong quai, bitter fennel, alfalfa
Phase II: chaste tree, wild yam, dandelion, sarsaparilla, fenugreek

I'm sure a naturopath near you can devise a mix.
posted by fritillary at 2:54 PM on August 12, 2016

......Don't go to a naturopath. Go to a licensed physician who practices evidence-based medicine. Your description of your symptoms sounds severe, and you could have a serious (and treatable!) medical problem, like endometriosis as someone suggested above. You want to get tested and checked out.
posted by a strong female character at 8:05 PM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had similar problems and citalopram (Celexa) has helped immensely.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:36 PM on August 12, 2016

I never found GYNs to be that much help; but a good nurse practitioner .... that was worth it.

too much histamine can be an issue for some.

The magnesium suggestion is excellent. Try an epsom salt bath too. Great place to have a good cry. Make sure you're getting enough zinc.

I found this website to be helpful:
posted by egk at 8:35 AM on August 13, 2016

I had an acquaintance who had PMDD and your emotional symptoms are essentially what she went through. Definitely get evaluated for that.

My periods are godawful and heavy because I have fibroids (the type I have now are only treatable by hysterectomy, so I'm just sort of hanging in there for now). I second the recommendation for B vitamins and will add a suggestion to get your vitamin D levels checked - I was deficient in both B12 and D and noticed that my cramps and other period-related symptoms improved once I started taking B complex and vit. D daily. Bonus side effect - my nails are now less brittle!

I'll also nth the hugs all-around to everyone in this thread because bad periods SUCK.
posted by bedhead at 2:44 PM on August 13, 2016

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