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Gender bias in science is preventing effective research into period pain and PMS


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Nine out of 10 women and trans men experience pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and there are over 100 different symptoms, including insomnia, swelling, difficulty concentrating, and weight gain. The most common aspect of PMS, however, is period pain - and the medical community isn't taking it seriously enough.

According to John Guillebaud, a professor of reproductive health at University College London, period pain can be “as bad as having a heart attack”. Yet despite the fact PMS is experienced by the majority of menstruating women, as well as many trans men, and period pain is a crippling side effect most have probably experienced, scientists still haven't found a cure. If you've ever wondered why, the answer is simple: sexism. 

Research into PMS and period pain is paltry, because, quite frankly, it’s not taken seriously enough. The attitude towards periods is a one-size fits all remedy: pop a few Ibuprofen and get yourself a hot water bottle. This isn't good enough, especially for those who suffer from extreme period pain - called pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, which causes around 15% of sufferers to attempt suicide.

The big problem is that research funding for menstrual issues just isn't there. Richard Legro, from Penn State College of Medicine, has found evidence that Viagra could help treat period pain - however, he can't find anyone willing to fund his research.

Speaking to Quartz, he said: “I’ve applied three or four times but it always gets rejected. I think the bottom line is that nobody thinks menstrual cramps is an important public health issue.”

Compare this with the research that’s put into men's issues. 19% of men suffer erectile dysfunction, while 90% of women and trans men suffer PMS. Yet there is five times the amount of research put into erectile dysfunction than PMS. The differences are shocking.

Since non-sterol anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen and Aspirin were invented research into period pain has slowed down significantly, as many scientists see these pain relief medications as solutions to the problem. This just isn't good enough. Period pain forces many suffers to miss school and work. According to the Daily Mail, in a survey of 600 women, 10% said they were regularly bedridden by their period pains, four out of ten said pain effected their concentration at work, while some claimed their period pains negatively impacted their careers.

Period pain and PMS in general is treated with a sort of mysticism; something that happens because of Mother Nature but isn't taken seriously enough in the medical science world to research properly. Kathleen Lustyk, a psychologist from the University of Washington, suggests this lack of focus is because researchers simply don't believe PMS exists. As ridiculous as that seems, Lustyk has had medical reviews turned down on the basis that the reviewers didn't believe PMS was real.

Speaking to ResearchGate she explained how they suggested PMS was “merely a product of our society or culture that has painted a natural process in a negative light and that, given its monthly predictability, leads to suffering through anticipation." It's something that she claims “is a fancy way of saying it’s really just in a woman’s head.”

Anyone who has suffered period pain or PMS will know how very real these symptoms are, and how more often then not popping an Ibuprofen isn't effective. Gender bias in science is far too prevalent, and until that changes it’s unlikely period pain and PMS will be taken seriously by the medical science world.

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