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Searching for a solution to severe, distressing period pain

Searching for a solution to severe, distressing period pain

Exploring why one in five teenage girls experience severe period pain is the focus of ground-breaking Australian research.

While most women will have some pain with periods, for those with severe pain the impact on well-being, confidence, families and educational opportunities can be debilitating.

The University of Adelaide study funded by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) Research Foundation suggests that the missing link in better understanding the causes of severe period pain may be the activation of the immune system by the female hormone oestrogen.

Research partner Dr Susan Evans, a pain specialist, gynaecologist, and laparoscopic surgeon said chronic period pain was a serious condition that not only affected teenage girls but also one in 10 women of reproductive age.

‘’It is so important that we examine the impact severe period pain has on so many young women. The suffering not only affects them, but their families and society generally, ’’ she said.

The University of Adelaide was awarded a $56,000 research grant through the ANZCA Research Foundation in 2015 to examine why some women experience such severe pain with periods and others do not.

‘’We are looking at what is different about these young women who suffer so badly. So often their pain is under-recognised. Others find it difficult to understand a pain that can’t be seen, and that they can’t imagine having themselves.’’ Dr Evans explained.

Dr Evans will speak about the impact of chronic pelvic pain at a conference of the Faculty of Pain Medicine (FPM) in Brisbane on Friday May 12, and present her laboratory research findings at the annual scientific meeting of ANZCA on Saturday May 13.

‘’From a health services perspective, Pelvic Pain is a hidden epidemic in our community – common, but not spoken about, or provided for’’ she said.

‘’However, once the topic is raised, so many people have a daughter, sister, partner or friend affected. The public understands how important this is. Many may have heard of a condition called Endometriosis that is associated with severe period and pelvic pain. However, while Endometriosis can be an important factor, it doesn’t explain all pain. We have so much more to learn through research.

‘’Unfortunately, despite affecting girls and young women at a time of their life when they can contribute most to our society and economy, Australian research spending in this area is minimal. ANZCA and the Faculty of Pain Medicine are to be congratulated for supporting research in an area of need, affecting so many women.’’

The current study investigated the immune system sensitivity of 56 women, and related this to the severity of their pain, using a blood test developed by Dr Heillie Kwok,

Professor Mark Hutchinson and Professor Paul Rolan of the University of Adelaide. Early findings strongly suggest that women with severe pain have increased inflammation and activation of pain pathways.

Dr Evans said the research had enormous potential.

‘’Finding new reasons why some women have more pain, may lead us to new and more effective medications for both severe period pain and other pain conditions where inflammation is present,’’ she said.

‘’Further development of the blood test used in this study may provide us with a way to measure severe pain, quickly and easily. Improved ways to measure an oversensitive immune reaction to pain is a cutting edge focus of pain research.’’

About FPM

The Faculty of Pain Medicine is a world-leading professional organisation for pain specialists that sets standards in pain medicine and is responsible for education and training in the discipline in Australia and New Zealand. Pain medicine is multidisciplinary, recognising that the management of severe pain requires the skills or more than one area of medicine.

Chronic pain affects about one in five people in Australia and New Zealand. Specialists also manage acute pain (post-operative, post-trauma, acute episodes of pain in medical conditions) and cancer pain.

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