Periods are a huge part of life for many women. For some, they can be extremely painful or heavy, while for others they can breeze by without a fuss.
The issue of whether women should take time off because of period pain has recently been thrown into the forefront of discussion thanks to Bristol-based company Coexist, which announced it was implementing a 'period policy' earlier this week.
The announcement has proven divisive.
Coexist's policy encourages women to work in sync with their menstrual cycle. Women are encouraged to talk openly about their periods and go home if they feel unwell. Taking sick leave is not compulsory for their female employees, it's simply an option for those who desperately need it.
In light of the heated debates (both online and in our own office), The Huffington Post UK asked readers whether women should be allowed to take time off due to period pain in a Twitter poll.
A total of 279 people took part, with 56% saying that women should get time off. Meanwhile 44% disapproved of the idea.
Should women be allowed time off work due to #period pain? Tweet us your thoughts...
— HuffPostUK Lifestyle (@HuffPoLifestyle) March 3, 2016
Severe period pain and heavy bleeding is a health issue for some, but not all, women. It is estimated that as many as one in 10 women suffer from dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation).
There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary, which is when the muscular wall of the womb contracts, and secondary, which could be a sign of an underlying health condition such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Primary dysmenorrhea occurs from the first day of a woman's period and affects the majority of young women who don't take contraceptive pills or who aren't sexually active. It can cause nausea, vomiting and paleness.
With secondary dysmenorrhea, the pain usually begins up to seven days before a woman’s period starts. It will reach peak intensity for the first few days of a period and then gradually reduce in intensity a few days afterwards.
"A common cause is endometriosis," explained Dr Ahmed Ismail, a Harley Street Gynaecology Consultant. It can also occur as a result of fibroids, adenomyosis, STIs, pelvic inflammatory disease and the use of an intrauterine device (IUD).
Dysmenorrhea pain may be 'spasmodic', which results in sharp pelvic cramps at the start of menstrual flow and is often associated with primary dysmenorrhea, or 'congestive' resulting in a deep, dull ache. The latter type of pain is usually associated with secondary dysmenorrhea.
Dr Ismail told HuffPost UK that for women with both types of dysmenorrhea, dependence on painkillers - for example, codeine - can become an issue.
He said: "Physicians are very unhappy for women to take excessive medications rich in codeine, as this can result in dependency and, following this, the women won't be able to tolerate any pain in the body without taking an extremely strong pain relief medication."
As well as severe period pain, there's also the issue of heavy periods (known as menorrhagia), where a woman loses an excessive amount of blood during consecutive periods. It can occur by itself or in combination with dysmenorrhoea.
According to the NHS, it can "affect a woman physically, emotionally and socially, and can cause disruption to everyday life".
Women with menorrhagia will often go through an unusually high number of tampons or pads, or may need to use them together to control the flow.
They may also experience heavy bleeding that floods through tampons and pads onto clothes or bedding. This can be quite embarrassing in the workplace.
"It is important to note that patients' painful period symptoms can vary in intensity, even in the same person. The pain levels are not static or continuous and, therefore, the woman’s experience will differ from month to month," added Dr Ismail.Story continues below...
TRUTH: Run, bike, dance — do whatever you want. These are just some of the so-called "strenuous" activities you can still do while you're on your period. Unless you're in a lot of pain, feel free to exercise or partake in any other type of activity. In fact, some studies even suggest exercising can help with painful periods.
TRUTH: There was a time when young girls were told strange things like if they went swimming in the ocean, their period scents would attract sharks, or their tampon would swell with water, causing them to drown. These are pure myths. Tampons, for example, make it easier for women to enjoy swimming or beach days during periods.
TRUTH: Unless you're carrying a big red sign that says "it's my time of the month," nobody will know you're on your period. If you're embarrassed about pad lines (even though you can hardly tell), try wearing a tampon. Sometimes, you may also have a period odour. Again, nobody else can smell it. If you are worried, change your tampon or pad more often.
TRUTH: Tampons are perfectly safe for both teens and adults. If you still haven't used a tampon and you're worried about discomfort, make sure you read the instructions carefully. And no, using tampons doesn't mean you lose your virginity.
TRUTH: For the first few hours/days of your period, it may seem like you’re losing a lot blood. On average, women lose about 60 ml (4 tablespoons) of blood, and considering a teen who weighs 110 lbs has about 3,500 ml of blood in her body, you can see the loss isn't that big.
TRUTH: No. Just no. There is no way a tampon can "float" away inside your body. Once you insert a tampon, it will stay there until you have to take it out.
TRUTH: You CAN wear a tampon overnight. Most tampons can be worn for eight hours a day or night, keeping in mind you should change your tampon every four to eight hours.
TRUTH: Again, false. Sleep on your back, front, side, whatever makes you feel comfortable. If you're worried about leaks, try pads and tampons that are meant to be worn overnight.
TRUTH: PMS (premenstrual syndrome) can occur seven to 14 days before the period begins. During this time, women may experience acne, bloating, tender breasts/nipples or mood swings. Some studies have shown mood swings, for example, may not exist, but this again varies from woman to woman.
TRUTH: The key to using tampons is to relax. If you don't get it right the first time, don't worry. Practice makes perfect, even when it comes to tampons.
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What it sounds like: A really bad horror film about a group of teens who drive their car out into the woods and get haunted by a ghost. But what you're actually referencing: There are cramps, and yes, blood to deal with, but getting your period isn't a curse of any sort — it's part of being a woman of a certain age. Periods involve our ovaries releasing eggs, while hormonal changes prepare our uteruses for pregnancy. See ... not so scary.
What it sounds like: A really cool and urban aunt who likes to listen to hip hop and buy vinyl records But what you're actually referencing: Aunt Flo only visits once a month (a 28-day cycle to be exact). She is kind of uncomfortable, annoying and her conversations never stops flowing...
What it sounds like: Your really really really old aunt who has a kind soul. But what you're actually referencing: Similar to her sister Aunt Flo, Aunt Rose seems to be the nicer of the two: Because we all know things like rose petals and rose bushes resemble menstruation.
What it sounds like: Like you have a giant wound and you can't stop bleeding. Ever. But what you're actually referencing: You're being pretty literal here, but yes, a period means you're bleeding from your vagina.
What it sounds like: A really trendy urban cafe. But what you're actually referencing: The dot/dots that appear on your liner, pad and sometimes on your bed sheets and underwear. Also, dot = period.
What it sounds like: Not just any friend, but a really annoying friend you don't like. But what you're actually referencing: Sometimes we try to make the best of what life throws at us by staying positive and remembering our periods can be our friends.
What it sounds like: When the plumbing went wrong ... for a week. But what you're actually referencing: Again, the leak refers the constant flow of blood coming out of your body. We also assume people are referring to leaks they get on their pants or bedsheets. The worst.
What it sounds like: Time of the month sounds like a hush-hush thing that happens to your body that only you and members of a secret club understand. But what you're actually referencing: TOTM refers to time of the month when your period is taking place — just so we're all on the same page.
What it sounds like: A newsletter or a magazine that comes out once a month But what you're actually referencing: To add emphasis that everything is cool with your flow and your period only happens once a month.
What it sounds like: Teenage slang But what you're actually referencing: PMS actually stands for premenstrual syndrome, and isn't a synonym for your period at all.
What it sounds like: A dirty old cloth you use to wash your dishes and floor But what you're actually referencing: The rag is closely related to the pad or tampon we wear during periods... and how uncomfortable it is. It's also an unfortunate visual.
What it sounds like: This river in China! But what you're actually referencing: We're not sure with the obsession of words like "river," "water" or "flow" when it comes to describing your period. Our best guess? The assumption that when a woman is on her period, she is forever bleeding.
What it sounds like: It sounds like what it is, the bleeding elevator from the 'The Shining.' But what you're actually referencing: Periods are scary and women bleed and if you see/talk about this blood, something terrible will happen. Get a grip, people — the only thing frightening about periods is using phrases like "the shining" to describe it.
One woman who knows the intensity of period pain all too well is Fi Star-Stone, who has endometriosis.
When asked if she would take time off from her job in childcare due to period pain, she said: "No. During my career working with children, I was depended on by both parents, children and my co-workers, so no, it just wouldn't have been an option and I wouldn't have wanted to let anyone down.
"In my case it would've been a huge amount of time to take off each year which would've cause enormous disruption.
"For my employers, sorting out cover at short notice would be impossible, not to mention the effect it would have on the children in my care."
Stone described her period pain as being similar to mid-labour contraction pain.
"Sometimes it's an ongoing sharp pain and severe pressure in the lower back, legs and abdomen which although extremely painful, is manageable with strong painkillers," she added.
So, after bearing all of this in mind, should women be given the option to take time off for period pain?
Dr Ismail concluded: "If you cannot work, you cannot work. Your health comes first so you need to attend to your pain immediately and have some rest.
"Seeking proper gynaecological advice immediately is very important as, by doing so, you can prevent the cycle and pain from reoccurring."
He added: "If left untreated, the pain can affect you dramatically as, not only will you experience severe discomfort, which, inevitably will result in personal unhappiness, but it will also result in you taking much time off work.
"Seek proper advice for regular relief of pain NOT pain relief medication, which are temporary measures. It is important to manage the situation for long-term resolve and comfort."