'I was incapacitated by my period': Mother with extreme menstrual symptoms finds relief after hysterectomy

Alexandra Thompson
·5-min read
Katy Wheatley paid for a hysterectomy to relieve her debilitating period symptoms. (Supplied: Katy Wheatley)

A mother has described how she was "incapacitated" by her periods.

Katy Wheatley, 48, from Leicester, endured "really awful, heavy, painful" periods since her first menstrual cycle aged 12.

Over the next three decades, Wheatley's "life was built around" her periods, with the mother-of-three enduring vomiting, extreme smell sensitivity and migraines that affected her vision so severely she was unable to drive her children to school.

After "begging" doctors for a hysterectomy, the then 39-year-old was told she was too young for the procedure.

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It was not until Wheatley appeared on a radio show to talk about extreme periods that she heard of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD); a "very severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)".

After later being diagnosed with the disorder, Wheatley paid for a private hysterectomy in 2018, with her "magnificent" life now "unrecognisable" to how it was.

Watch: How to relieve period pain

PMDD's exact cause is unknown, however, it could be due to a woman being highly sensitive to the hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle, which may be genetic.

"I would have migraines that caused me to loss my sight," Wheatley told Yahoo UK.

"I would vomit every half an hour for 24 hours.

"I would have extreme sensitivity to smell. If someone was cooking bacon three doors down that would finish me off."

At the worst of times, Wheatley spent up to 10 days "in the throes a menstrual migraine".

"I was incapacitated by my period," she said. "It's no life. My life had to be built around it."

Feeling "no one took it seriously", Wheatley was repeatedly offered the pill, which only made her symptoms worse.

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After hearing about PMDD during a radio interview, the mother-of-three insisted her GP refer her to an expert.

"I said, 'I'm not leaving your office, until you give me the referral," said Wheatley. "'You're going to have to carry me out'."

After being referred to The Royal London Hospital in early 2018, a specialist gave Wheatley a drug that "switched her hormones off" as part of a "chemically-induced menopause".

With the doctor not willing to prescribe the aggressive medication for long, Wheatley became panicked when an appointment to discuss a hysterectomy was repeatedly pushed back.

"I had a brief window of what my life could be like, then it started to close," she said.

Desperate, Wheatley paid to have a hysterectomy in September 2018.

"Life is unrecognisable," she said. "I had no life before; now I can do anything. It's magnificent."

Shot of an unrecognizable woman suffering from stomach cramps in her bedroom
Four in five women experience some degree of period pain in their life. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

How to relieve period pain

Between 5% and 10% of women are thought to have PMDD.

Period pain, while considerably less severe, affects around four in five (80%) women at some point in their life.

For most women, periods occur around every 28 days, with any discomfort being tolerable with painkillers, a hot water bottle or gently massaging the cramping area.

The NHS also recommends transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS machines); "a small battery-operated device that delivers a mild electrical current to your tummy to help reduce pain".

Dr Irem Tezer Ates, NuroKor's medical science director, told Yahoo UK bioelectronic therapy is an "emerging treatment that has huge potential for easing severe period pain".

"Devices, like those produced by NuroKor, use bioelectrical currents to target nerve endings through the skin and reduce pain signals reaching the brain," said Dr Tezer Ates.

"Bioelectronic therapy is also non-invasive, making it a great alternative to medication and over-the-counter painkillers too."

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If painkillers and other at-home remedies are ineffective, gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta from INTIMINA recommends speaking to a GP.

Women should also seek help if their periods affect their quality of life.

"Do you have to take time off work because your period is painful, super heavy or affecting your mood? If your symptoms are becoming unmanageable or overwhelming, or occur every period, it's time to speak to your doctor, who may refer you to see a gynaecologist,"Dr Datta told Yahoo UK.

Regularly bleeding onto clothes, a heavy feeling in the pelvis, pain that cannot be ignored, and passing blood between periods or after sex should also prompt a visit to a doctor.

The medic may carry out blood tests and an ultrasound scan to get to the bottom of the symptoms, which could be down to an infection. In some cases, surgery may be required to examine the internal organs.

Doctors then consider the best treatment for the individual, whether it be specialist pain relief, hormonal contraception or surgery, in extreme cases.

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While period taboo has come a long way, Dr Datta stresses women should still never be ashamed of their symptoms.

"Period problems are one of the most common conditions I see as a gynaecologist and it's something we can help you through," she said.

"There's no need to be embarrassed to ask for help, it's just like any other body part and sometimes if there's a problem, it's easier to treat if we manage it earlier."

With period pain being common, it can be difficult to for a woman to gauge whether her discomfort is "normal".

"From an early age, most women are taught period pain is just simply part and parcel of their periods, and therefore they learn to normalise the pain and it often goes untreated," said Dr Tezer Ates.

"Unfortunately this can sometimes mean women try to ignore or live with pain that is actually not normal and could be a sign of a condition that requires medical attention or treatment.

"I would urge anyone who thinks they might be experiencing levels of pain that is out of the ordinary to seek proper medical guidance and support. It is nothing to be embarrassed about."

Watch: Severe PMS could be PMDD