Menstrual bleeding that lasts over seven days or is very heavy is called menorrhagia. It affects more than 10 million Americans each year.
Kristyn Watkins was 10-years-old when she got her first menstrual cycle. Ever since then, she's been suffering from what she describes as debilitating, heavy periods which often forced her to stay home or stay near a restroom. "As a young child, I thought it was normal to have an extremely heavy flow and it continued my entire life," the 37-year-old told Good Morning America. "I never talked about it with anyone my whole life because it's a private thing." She revealed that her mom and grandmother both experienced the same complications and that they too probably didn't realize that what they were going through wasn't the norm.
Menstrual bleeding that lasts more than seven days or is very heavy is called menorrhagia. It affects more than 10 million American women each year, or one out of every five women.https://t.co/ag9RTDS3Tm— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 25, 2021
"I remember my mom saying, 'Oh, I know honey, Nanny and I are going through the same thing and know it's hard,'" Watkins, a school principal in Indiana, recalled. It was only at the age of 33, when she gave birth to her first child — a daughter named Georgia — that Watkins got a medical professional's take on the matter. "I thought my cycle was heavy before I had children, and after I had her, it was even worse," said Watkins, who consulted her OBGYN, Dr. Todd Rumsey, chief medical officer of the Cameron Memorial Community Hospital in Angola, Indiana, about her concerns.
Heavy menstrual bleeding is common, occurring in up to 37% of adolescents.— Shematologist, MD (@acweyand) January 15, 2020
Other red flags: large clots, "gushing sensation", accidents, needing to change overnight, and development of iron deficiency 4/n
"I realized in talking to him that, 'Oh my gosh, this isn't normal,'" she said. "I was suffering when I didn't have to be." According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, menstrual bleeding that lasts over seven days or is very heavy is called menorrhagia. More than 10 million American menstruators are affected by the condition each year and many of them do not know that they can get help for it. While non-surgical treatments for menorrhagia include treatments like iron supplements, birth control pills, hormone therapy, and over-the-counter painkillers like Advil, Watkins chose a more invasive treatment for it.
The mom-of-three underwent an endometrial ablation last December, performed by Rumsey using the Cerene Cryotherapy Device, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019. Speaking of the procedure, Rumsey, who is the first doctor in the United States to perform a commercial Cerene cryoablation, said: "The procedure itself is designed to decrease heavy menstrual flow and reduce the need for hysterectomy in the treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding. I caution my patients that there isn't a device [to stop periods] but what they all are designed to do is to decrease your need for hysterectomy."
According to Rumsey, unlike traditional endometrial ablation which uses heat and therefore calls for anesthesia, the Cerene cryoablation does not require general anesthesia and thus allows patients to undergo the procedure in a doctor's office. The procedure is said to take less than seven minutes and works by freezing the endometrial lining of the uterus. "This is a non-hormonal way of managing the menses," said Rumsey, revealing that the recovery from the procedure is only a few days compared to possibly weeks for a hysterectomy. "I believe that hysterectomy may be very appropriate for some menstruators, and when that's the case, allowing that woman to proceed is very important. If we can offer medical or surgical options that do not pose significant downtime or significant long-term risks, I think that is of advantage to a woman."
I can now say that the endometrial ablation worked. I feel like I have a period that is almost normal didn’t need tranexamic at all!— 1.58 m of awesomeness 😘 Ko Kim tōku ingoa. (@kimtairi) July 16, 2020
Truly life changing. No More Menorrhagia. pic.twitter.com/1ubLn4c8FK
Watkins had to wait until after she had her final child to undergo the procedure since while it does not cause infertility, endometrial ablation does make future pregnancy risky. The FDA strongly recommends that patients use contraceptives after the procedure. Menstruators also required to undergo screenings prior to the procedure to rule out underlying causes like cancer or fibroids that could be causing their heavy bleeding. As for how someone can determine whether they have a heavy period or not, Rumsey said a good rule of thumb is to think about whether their period is a disruption to their daily lives.
"When the menstrual flow is disruptive to a woman's day, her ability to interact with others when it gets into the way of her being the employee or the boss, the wife, the best friend, the mom, the sister, when it gets in the way of doing those things, then we need to have a discussion as to how can we make this less disruptive," said Rumsey. "For it to take away from your ability to do those things is not OK." Since undergoing the procedure, Watkins has noticed a marked difference in her periods and said that she feels like a "new woman."
"This is something that's been in my family for a long time and I feel sad thinking about my mom and my grandmother and my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother," she said. "Think about how many people are going through the same thing and have never told anyone or they just thought that was normal." After staying quiet about the subject for nearly three decades, Watkins is now speaking out in hopes of helping other menstruators. "I want people reading this to know that it's not normal to have to stay close to a restroom for close to one week out of the month for fear of what may happen," she said. "We know our body better than anyone. If you feel as though something isn't right, say something."