Menstrual bleeding that lasts over seven days or is very heavy is called menorrhagia. It affects more than 10 million m=enstruators each year.
For some, their menstrual cycle is brief and painless, but for others, the lengthy period of heavy flow is riddled with pain. Kristyn Watkins, who first got her period at 10, belongs to the latter category. Speaking to Good Morning America, the 37-year-old described her menstrual cycle as debilitating, heavy periods which she continued suffering from for almost three decades. "As a young child, I thought it was normal to have an extremely heavy flow and it continued my entire life," Watkins told the outlet. "I never talked about it with anyone my whole life because it's a private thing," she said, adding that she often found herself feeling embarrassed about her heavy period flow.
As it turns out, Watkins' mother too experienced these complications and so did her grandmother, who had to undergo a hysterectomy at age 32 due to her excessive bleeding. Watkins, a school principal in Indiana, finally opened up about it to her mother, "I remember my mom saying, 'Oh, I know honey, Nanny and I are going through the same thing and know it's hard. I don't think they realized that it wasn't normal either." Not having enough knowledge about heavy period flow, Watkins continued living with it. She recalls how she would often be forced to remain home or stay close to a restroom just because she did not know about any other relief methods.
The title undersells the story a bit but so much to love about this article. Hooray @GMA for calling attention to this important topic and how many women suffer needlessly with heavy periods!! https://t.co/CSpIfMYuWs via @GMA— Bethany Samuelson MD (@bsamuelson_md) February 26, 2021
This went on for years until she gave birth to her first child, her daughter Georgia, at the age of 33. "I thought my cycle was heavy before I had children, and after I had her, it was even worse," shared Watkins, who finally decided to consult her OBGYN Dr. Todd Rumsey about her excessive menstrual bleeding. "I realized in talking to him that, 'Oh my gosh, this isn't normal. I was suffering when I didn't have to be," she added. Watkins was suffering from menorrhagia, where a person's menstrual bleeding is very heavy or lasts over seven days.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 10 million menstruators, or one out of every five menstruators in America are affected by it every year. There are many non-surgical treatments for menorrhagia, including iron supplements, hormone therapy, birth control pills, and OTC painkillers such as Avil. But Watkins, a mother of three, decide to go with a more invasive treatment called endometrial ablation. Last December, Rumsey performed the procedure on her using the Cerene Cryotherapy Device, which was reportedly approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019. Rumsey, who is the chief medical officer of the Cameron Memorial Community Hospital in Angola, Indiana, is the first doctor in America to have performed a commercial Cerene cryoablation.
Finally I was asked the question “is this effecting your quality of life?” Why did it take 5 years to get to that question? US showed I had 3 lg fibroids. Too late for ablation. My only option was hysterectomy.— Jill (@jillschlos) February 25, 2021
"The procedure itself is designed to decrease heavy menstrual flow and reduce the need for hysterectomy in the treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding," the OBGYN told GMA, adding, "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." Rumsey explains that the Cerene cryoablation does not require the patient to be under general anesthesia and that the procedure can be conducted in a doctors' office. This is a contrast to the traditional endometrial ablations which require anesthesia as it uses heat. The procedure, which takes less than seven minutes, requires the doctor to freeze the endometrial lining of the uterus, according to Rumsey.
"This is a non-hormonal way of managing the menses," said Rumsey, adding that it only takes a few days to recuperate whereas a hysterectomy could require weeks. "I believe that hysterectomy may be very appropriate for some women, and when that's the case, allowing that woman to proceed is very important," he said. "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." Although Cerene cryoablation does not cause infertility, it could risk future pregnancies and that's why Watkins waited until the delivery of her final child to undergo the procedure. Per the FDA, patients are highly recommended to use contraceptives after the procedure.
I had an uterine ablation. Best decision I ever made— Linda Peters (@HugeYankeeFan) February 26, 2021
Ever since undergoing the procedure, Watkins 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." Being someone who chose to keep the matter private, Watkins says that she has now spoken out about it in the hopes of reaching out to other menstruators who are in the same situation as she was. "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. We know our body better than anyone. If you feel as though something isn't right, say something," she said.