Women who suffer from retrograde menstruation experience the menstrual blood, which contains endometrial cells, flowing back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity, instead of flowing out of the body from the vagina. Retrograde menstruation is a common condition, and some degree of it happens in most women who have their periods. It is believed that women who have considerable retrograde menstruation are at a higher risk for endometriosis. Read on to find out everything about what is retrograde menstruation.
What is Retrograde Menstruation?
Retrograde menstruation is a common occurrence in women. It happens when the blood starts to flow backward into the pelvis instead of flowing out of the vagina during menstruation. (1) Retrograde menstruation does occur to a certain degree in most women when they are having their periods. Many experts believe that women who have significant retrograde menstruation, are at a higher risk of endometriosis. (2)
Retrograde menstruation is known to deposit some amount of endometrial cells outside of the uterus, where they may start to grow and become problematic – giving rise to endometriosis. However, not all the research on this subject supports the role of retrograde menstruation in increasing the risk of endometriosis.
What are the Symptoms of Retrograde Menstruation?
During retrograde menstruation, blood starts to flow through the fallopian tubes and out into the peritoneum, instead of flowing through the cervix and then out of the vagina.
Women who have retrograde menstruation usually do not experience any symptoms. Nevertheless, the main symptoms associated with retrograde menstruation is experiencing pain during menstruation or dysmenorrhea. However, this is a non-specific symptom, as menstrual pain is also associated with many other types of medical conditions that affect reproductive health.
What are the Causes of Retrograde Menstruation?
The exact cause of retrograde menstruation remains unknown because most research about retrograde menstruation has to date focused on retrograde menstruation in the context of endometriosis. Therefore, there is very little evidence or research on what is the exact cause of retrograde menstruation.
Nevertheless, there has been at least one study that has shown that women who have blocked fallopian tubes do not experience retrograde menstruation. (3)
Some research suggests that women who have a smaller cervical opening are at a higher risk of retrograde blood flow. Nevertheless, since research shows that retrograde menstruation is quite common amongst people who have a uterus, this has to be considered as a regular aspect of any menstrual functioning.
At the same time, retrograde menstruation is only considered to be a medical concern if and when it causes symptoms, or it leads to other conditions such as endometriosis.
Diagnosis of Retrograde Menstruation
Retrograde menstruation is not typically diagnosed as a condition by itself. It is usually diagnosed as a result of endometriosis or pelvic pain. For example, it may become possible to diagnose retrograde menstruation when doctors perform a laparoscopic examination of the pelvis during menstruation, and they find blood.
Unfortunately, for many women who have endometriosis, many years go by in pain before they actually receive a proper diagnosis. The biggest reason behind this is because doctors do not always take period pain seriously. Furthermore, many doctors also consider painful periods to be a regular part of menstruation. After all, discomfort during menstruation is common.
However, if menstrual pain is disabling or affecting the ability to live a healthy life, then it needs to be shown to a doctor for further examination and look for causes.
Endometriosis is known to affect over 10 percent of women, and it is not easy to diagnose. However, you must keep an eye out for symptoms.
Treatment for Retrograde Menstruation
There is no need for treating retrograde menstruation unless it causes other problems. Treating retrograde menstruation typically involves hormonal therapy or an intrauterine hormonal device to decrease or eliminate the backward menstrual flow.
A hysterectomy will also treat retrograde menstruation, but this procedure would only be performed if there was another reason behind the removal of the uterus.
While the term retrograde menstruation sounds scary, but it is not an uncommon condition. Retrograde menstruation just means that when you get your monthly periods, some of the blood and tissue may flow backward into your pelvis instead of out of the vagina and onto your pad or tampon. Generally, retrograde menstruation is not a condition you need to worry about. You only need to worry about this condition if you have other problems, such as endometriosis. Your doctor will treat these problems separately. So make sure that you talk with your doctor if you are experiencing any unusual or extreme period pain.
- Halme, J., Hammond, M.G., Hulka, J.F., Raj, S.G. and Talbert, L.M., 1984. Retrograde menstruation in healthy women and in patients with endometriosis. Obstetrics and gynecology, 64(2), pp.151-154.
- Liu, D.T.Y. and Hitchcock, A., 1986. Endometriosis: its association with retrograde menstruation, dysmenorrhoea and tubal pathology. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 93(8), pp.859-862.
- Medscape.com. (2019). What is the role of retrograde menstruation in the etiology of endometriosis?. [online] Available at: https://www.medscape.com/answers/271899-6212/what-is-the-role-of-retrograde-menstruation-in-the-etiology-of-endometriosis [Accessed 18 Oct. 2019].