How women are ditching periods for good

By Melanie Hearse

Painful periods are nothing to sneeze at. Photo / Getty Images.
Painful periods are nothing to sneeze at. Photo / Getty Images.

I'll be honest, I never understood the fuss about periods until well into my thirties.
Three to five days of pretty much nothing, with zero emotional fallout. I just didn't comprehend why some women had to spend days in bed with cramps, or how THAT time of the month could really influence your mood so much.

I know, how "cute" was I?

Fast forward past two pregnancies and a few more years passing, disaster strikes downstairs.

Enter mood swings that had me laser-eyeballing people for chewing too loudly, leaving a plate out of the dishwasher, or breathing the wrong way.

And emotional train-wreckage aside, I was also no stranger to spending the day in bed with debilitating pain; feeling not unlike I'd been hit across the lower back with a lump of two by four.

Oh, and my body decided it preferred a three weeks off, one and a half weeks on, cycle. Which was obviously super nice.

My bestie had been through a similar experience a couple of years earlier, and following a very failed attempt at using a Mirena Intrauterine device to deal with her woes (it caused her to all but stop sleeping), her gynaecologist suggested she consider something called an endometrial ablation.

18 months later, she's never looked back. Nor has she had even the suggestion of a period since.

What is an endometrial ablation?

Generally performed as a day-stay procedure and carried out under general or regional anaesthetic, Dr Alan Lam, gynaecologist with the Centre for Advanced Reproductive Endosurgery, explains the procedure essentially involves destroying the lining layer of the uterus.

"This may be done in strips using a loop of wire heated by an electric current, or destroyed by a heated rotating ball at the end of a wire, or by laser energy," he explains.

The procedure does not involve any cuts or stitches, and only takes around ten minutes - though you can expect to be in theatre and recovery for a number of hours.

Following the procedure, you will usually be able to go home a few hours later. You may experience some mild pain, which can be treated with over the counter pain relief pills, and some vaginal bleeding in the first one or two days is normal. This will taper off, but may linger for a couple of weeks as a brownish discharge.

My experience

After a particularly lengthy, painful and angst inducing period, I limped over to my GP to get Operation Periods Under Control underway.

Step one to treating problem periods is to undertake a range of tests. My GP took an extensive medical history and referred me for ultrasounds to check out what may be causing the changes. This was also done to rule out more serious reasons that can provoke such changes.

In my case, they saw some potential signs of endometriosis, though not enough to fully explain my symptoms, and nothing more sinister at play. I was also told periods can become heavier and more painful as you age.

Following these tests, my doctor referred me to a gynaecologist. Not one to beat around the bush (yes, I am aware there's a pun in there), I asked if I would be a good candidate for the endometrial ablation my friend had had.

Given I have finished having children and my husband has had a vasectomy (it is very important to prevent pregnancy after an ablation, as you can still fall pregnant and the pregnancy would be extremely high risk), and did not want to take hormonal contraceptives, I was given the thumbs up.

"I no longer spend days in bed from period pain" - Melanie Hearse on ditching her period. Photo / Getty Images.
"I no longer spend days in bed from period pain" - Melanie Hearse on ditching her period. Photo / Getty Images.

What are the risks?

Although the risks associated with ablation are minimal, it does carry the standard risks of any surgical procedure under anaesthetic, for example, infection - as well as a few of its own.

Dr Lam explains the procedure may not be able to be completed if there is a narrowing of the interior of the cervix, which may then require further surgery.

It's also possible your uterus may be perforated during the procedure. This is generally not a huge deal, but on occasion, will mean you'll need a laparoscopy or laparotomy.

Perforation also presents the risk of damage to adjacent organs - including bowel or bladder, which may require further corrective surgery.

In a very few cases, the fluid used to expand your uterus may be absorbed into your bloodstream. This may allow too much fluid in your body and can be serious, causing your hospital stay to be prolonged.

And neither last nor least, excessive bleeding from the uterus can occur. This may require blood transfusion and further surgery.

The aftermath

Dr Lam reports 90 to 95 per cent of the women they followed up after ablation are happy with the result - and in 20 to 40 per cent of the cases, their periods stop altogether.
"The rest have regular, light periods, and no further treatment is required," he says.

On some occasions, the lining of the uterus may grow back after a period of time - meaning a return of heavy, painful or frequent periods. Dr Lam says repeating the procedure will usually yield similar results.

And for those that don't have success?

"About 10 per cent of women may require hysterectomy due to recurrent bleeding, the development of fibroids or adenomyosis later in life," Dr Lam says.

And for me? So far, so very, very good. Despite feeling cramps for a week after the operation (very mildly), I haven't had an issue since - or a pesky period!

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