Women's management of menstrual symptoms: findings from a postal survey and qualitative interviews

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Jan;66(2):276-88. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.08.018. Epub 2007 Oct 24.


This paper draws on postal questionnaire and qualitative interview data to investigate women's experiences of and responses to menstrual symptoms. Respondents were drawn from general practices in the Lothian region of Scotland. They described a range of strategies to manage menstrual symptoms, learnt both from personal experience and discussions with others. While most women had spoken to others about periods, this more often related to matters such as changes with age, or pain management, whereas heaviness of blood loss was not usually a subject for discussion. When asked about formal help-seeking women described it as a step reluctantly taken, only if attempts to self manage failed, and that often it was opportunistic, occurring when consulting for something else. It was apparent that women thought of menstrual symptoms, even when felt to be problematic, as 'part and parcel' of female life and not a legitimate reason for adopting illness behaviour. The way that women spoke of managing symptoms suggested that responding to menstrual symptoms takes place within a moral framework and that the only 'legitimate' or 'virtuous' response was a stoical one. Our findings suggest that women with debilitating menstrual symptoms may not have access to the best information, advice or treatments for this. A supported self care approach could help, combining access to high quality information about what is usual and unusual for women, with information about what can help, what treatments are available from which sources and guidance on when and how to seek professional advice. If available in a range of formats, such as features in women's magazines, health-related web-sites and information leaflets, such an approach may help women self-manage their debilitating symptoms even better.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Menstruation Disturbances / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postal Service
  • Scotland
  • Self Care / methods*