Women who experience what is known as 'menstrual misery' or heavy painful periods should be seeking help much sooner, according to a leading Gold Coast gynaecologist.
Gold Coast Private surgeon Dr Graeme Walker said most women suffering from abnormal periods who underwent total laparoscopic hysterectomy (TLH) were in their late 40s and 50s and had suffered terribly, often for many years longer than necessary.
"It's really frustrating to hear how lives have been dominated for years by really heavy periods when there are a variety of simple medical and surgical solutions to hand," he said.
"These women often call in sick to work, end up bed bound, avoid the gym or leaving the house and some, alas perceive that this is the norm.
"There are many steps to treating heavy painful periods, many of which can be undertaken by the GP including simple medications like Transenamic acid or Ponstan, which can reduce the amount of blood lost during the period by up to 50 per cent.
"The combined oral contraceptive pill, if appropriate and especially in the younger age group, taken continuously results in the majority of women having no periods at all.
"The Mirena intrauterine device is inserted into the womb usually in the GP practice and results in a significant reduction in blood loss in the majority and complete loss of periods in a significant number of women for up to five years before the Mirena has to be replaced.
"For many reasons though, however hard we try, in some patients heavy painful periods persist despite all our best efforts, and a referral to a specialist is required.
"If these conservative treatments don't work, the GP should refer to a gynaecologist who will take a detailed history, perform a clinical exam to rule out any sinister cause for heavy bleeding before offering surgical options, usually in the form of an endometrial ablation or recommending a laparoscopic hysterectomy."
Dr Walker said for some women, surgical intervention was necessary, but there was often a delay in seeking help from a gynaecologist, which may be attributed to a misunderstanding and fear of the modern hysterectomy.
"Most of these women are often at the end of their tether and have tried multiple treatments for many years before seeking specialist advice," he said.
"It's important for women to understand that today's hysterectomy has little resemblance to that of 10 years ago when it was performed as an open surgery.
"A modern-day total laparoscopic hysterectomy is a minimally invasive procedure involving three, 5mm incisions in the abdomen which heal very quickly, with most women walking within hours of surgery and driving after a week.
"While women can usually go home the same day, at Gold Coast Private Hospital we keep them for a day or two, so they can get a well-deserved rest or some “me time “with excellent food before going back home."
Dr Walker said a major misconception was that most women assumed the ovaries were taken out at the time of surgery, putting them into the "dreaded menopause".
"This is definitely not the case as most hysterectomies only involve the removal of the uterus and cervix," he said.
"In most cases, the ovaries are left behind so women don't go into 'premature menopause' – instead menopause usually happens several years later when nature takes it course.
"The result of this type of hysterectomy is no more of the dreaded Pap smears; eliminated risk of cervical and endometrial cancer; and reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer.
"But for those who have been long-time sufferers of menstrual misery, the advantages of hysterectomy are so much more - iron stores return to normal, energy is increased, debilitating period pain disappears, no more days off work or missed gym sessions.
"As a last resort for this group of women total laparoscopic hysterectomy gives them back their life - a life that may have been missing for many years."
Dr Walker said, as is the case with any medical condition, surgery should always be the last resort.
"For those women who have finished having children and have failed with non-surgical methods, don't be afraid of hysterectomy," he said.
"For eligible patients, and when done by a skilled surgeon, it can completely change your life for the better."
For more information contact:
Dr Graeme Walker
The Cervical Centre
Gold Coast Private Hospital
Suite 5, Ground Floor
14 Hill Street, Southport QLD
P: 07 5530 0490