Researchers lead national project to improve menstrual health

Researchers from Western Sydney University have embarked upon a 12-month national project to change the way young women learn about, and deal with menstruation. The two-part project aims to reduce the incidence of undiagnosed menstrual disorders, and improve the levels of knowledge and understanding (‘health literacy’) relating to the menstrual cycle and its management among young women.

The interdisciplinary research team, led by NICM's Dr Mike Armour, is currently undertaking a national survey of Australian women aged 12-25 to examine their menstrual health literacy. The survey examines things such as menstrual symptoms, management strategies, sources of information on menstruation, and knowledge of symptoms of primary and secondary dysmenorrhea, including endometriosis.

Once results of the survey are collated, stage two of the project will commence – the development, in partnership with U by Kotex® (opens in a new window) (UbK), of self-care and education tools for menstrual health tailored to the needs of Australian adolescents and young women.

Dr Armour says the outcomes and findings of this study will be of national significance to health service and education providers, women and their advocacy groups.

“Many young women in Australia have high levels of period pain, and do not know how to effectively manage it. Many are also without information relating to effective self-care, or do not have the ability to identify problematic menstrual symptoms that may require further investigation,” Dr Armour says.

“Due to this, so many women have suffered unnecessarily from painful conditions like dysmenorrhea because they weren’t taught how to differentiate a ‘normal’ period from painful symptoms of the condition. Improved menstrual health literacy will help women recognise symptoms and inspire them to seek out medical assistance where needed.”

The educational tools to be developed as part of the project will include detailed information about identifying a ‘normal period’, accessible non-pharmacological self-care options delivered on a web-based platform, and the provision of up-to-date, practical information that could reduce the impact of period pain on wellbeing and academic performance.

Western Sydney University’s Professor Kathryn Holmes, from the School of Education, says this research is vital for the teaching of menstruation in schools.

“By developing girls’ health literacy skills for evaluating information and communicating health concerns, and by learning to manage their menstrual symptoms more effectively, we expect this will lessen the impact that their menstrual cycle has on classroom performance and school attendance,” says Professor Holmes.

The interdisciplinary research team includes researchers from NICM, the University’s School of Science and Health and School of Education, and includes experts in period pain, women’s health, health promotion and education.

Corporate partner UbK will be involved in promoting the project, and plan on using research to better inform their own menstrual education packages.

This project is approved by the Western Sydney University Human Research Ethics Committee (Approval Number H12411). The researchers acknowledge the support of Western Sydney University, NICM and U by Kotex.®