I have a 21-day menstrual cycle so I guess I’ve always been slightly more aware of its affect on my health than most people. However, in 2012, I suddenly started experiencing severe nausea and vomiting symptoms. It took over 2 years of visits to various doctors, and a misdiagnosis of an anxiety disorder, before I began to track my symptoms- which finally revealed that the nausea was caused by low, or perhaps rapidly decreasing, oestrogen levels in the days after ovulation, and then again before menstruation.
The hormonal cause was only tricky to spot because neither myself, nor any of my doctors, properly considered how a short cycle might affect the timing of ‘premenstrual’ symptoms: For example, in a 21-day cycle, I experienced 5 days of menstruation (with some nausea/ vomiting), followed by a couple of ‘good days’, then 4 days nausea, then 5 ‘good days’, then 5 days of nausea/ vomiting… Before I tracked my symptoms, this just felt like ‘nearly all the time’!
That’s when I started researching the link between the menstrual cycle and various symptoms- not just the well-known ones like ‘low mood’, ‘irritability’ or ‘tearfulness’. I quickly realised how little we are taught about our own bodies, and how the menstruation taboo has sadly limited the amount of attention we have paid to the role of hormones in causing, triggering, or worsening health conditions- even those that are known to mainly affect women of ‘reproductive age’…
Meanwhile, in order to reduce the nausea/vomiting, I started taking the contraceptive pill. At the time, I thought nothing of doing this- I had been on the same pill several times before, and I even liked its affect on my skin (making it clear- woo hoo!)…
So, now that my nausea was much reduced, I felt great. But, then I began to develop fairly severe asthma- seemingly out of nowhere… I saw various specialists, had every test possible, and they all came back with confusing results. I had really healthy lungs, and yet began to wheeze even if just climbing a couple of steps. Since I have always been very active, this was a distressing time- I couldn’t run, swim, or even sing anymore.
Then, through my research on the menstrual cycle, I met an expert in hormonal health. By chance, I mentioned my asthma- he immediately asked “What pill are you on?”- I told him, and he replied, “Well, that’s what’s causing your asthma!”. I couldn’t believe it. Even while I was researching the effect of hormones on health, I had failed to make the connection between my hormonal medication and asthma… “But, I have taken the same pill for years before and been fine?! How on earth can a contraceptive pill cause a breathing problem?!” However, I read the side effect information of my pill and, sure enough, asthma was listed. [I now know just how strong the relationship is between asthma and oestrogen, but at the time, I simply had no idea].
Within three weeks of stopping taking the pill, my asthma had all but vanished. But, now the nausea was creeping back (!) but I was determined to manage my symptoms through non-hormonal means. To cut a long story short, I did a lot of research and found out that with some very simple changes to my (already vegetarian) diet, some magnesium & vitamin B6 supplements, and by wearing travel sickness wristbands- I could virtually eliminate the nausea from my life.
And so, here we are. This is my story, and I am determined to share it, and the knowledge I have gained over the past few years, with anyone who might be going through a similarly unhappy hormonal health-related time. Life is too short to suffer in silence.
– Sally King, Director of Menstrual Matters