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Jana Pittman reveals 'alarming' condition that left her suffering in silence

The former world champ, now a doctor and mum of six, is urging women to seek help if they suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding.

Former world athletics champion Jana Pittman has revealed how she "suffered in silence" from a common medical condition that an "alarming" number of women still haven't sought help for.

Like many women, the 400m hurdles world champ and Commonwealth Games gold medallist thought heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) was just an "embarrassing part of being a woman". It was only after retiring and studying to become a doctor, the now 40-year-old mother of six realised "something was unusual".

"The whole off-season [of competing] I'd been bleeding for days and had countless iron injections to try to stop me becoming anemic," Pittman told Yahoo News Australia.

A photo of two-time athletics World Champion and four-time Commonwealth Champion, Jana Pittman, competing at the Athens Olympics. A photo of her and her six children.
Two-time athletics world champion Jana Pittman has revealed how she suffered for years from heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB). Source: Supplied (Supplied)

Meanwhile, during periods of training, Pittman explained her period would "normalise" or sometimes "disappear" — a condition known as Amenorrhea, which can be a side effect of "overtraining". She says it was often a "relief" from her normal heavy flows.

"It was actually during medical school that when they sort of quantified most women bleed three to five days, and they bleed three to four teaspoons of blood... that's what I was having in one day!" she said.

New research finds 'embarrassment' is main deterrent to treatment

A third (28 per cent) of Australian women experience heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) often and always, while three in four (72 per cent) have experienced it at some point, according to a new Hologic survey involving 5,000 women aged 35 to 52 years old.

The research also found that even after recognising their symptoms are abnormal, 55 per cent of respondents still haven't sought help and go on to experience a lower quality of life.

'It's not selfish to look after yourself'

Sydney local Annie Gibbins, a women's business owner and mum of five, "unnecessarily suffered" for 10 years with progressively worse periods, severe cramping, pelvic congestion, and fatigue before "prioritising her health" and finding out it was related to endometriosis.

A photo of founder and CEO of Women's Biz Global, Annie Gibbins, at a gynaecologist appointment. Dr Talat Uppal, a Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Founder & Director of Women’s Health.
Founder and CEO of Women's Biz Global, Annie Gibbins, suffered for 10 years from HMB before getting a diagnosis. Source: Supplied (Supplied)

Like many women, she previously joked around about "waiting till menopause," for the relief from heavy periods. But now after getting a diagnosis and treatment, she's urging others to do the same.

"It's definitely justified as any other area of ill health would be," she told Yahoo. "Particularly as mums, we self-sacrifice and prioritise other things over ourselves," she told Yahoo.

"But it's not selfish to give permission to look after yourself — it actually means you're in the best physical health to live your life and care for those that you're responsible for."

Seek multiple perspectives

In speaking out about this "debilitating" issue, Pittman wants to "normalise talk about periods" but also "make sure the huge number of Australian women get treated for the negative side effects of heavy bleeding" instead of "constantly having their lives disrupted" with "anaemia and fatigue and the loss of productivity and lifestyle".

Treatment options for HMB, also known as Menorrhagia, include hormonal therapies, non-hormonal medications, slow hormone-releasing intrauterine devices (IUDs) and a minimally invasive procedure of removing the inner lining of the uterus (endometrial ablation) to help reduce or stop menstrual bleeding.

When making an appointment with a GP, she encouraged women to "see someone else" if they don't get the answers they want.

"I have had so many women write to me on Instagram over the last couple of days, saying, 'hey, thanks so much for raising the awareness around heavy bleeding, but I spoke to my GP and I didn't really get any answers,' she said.

"If you don't get the answers the first time, see someone else and it might be that you get a referral to a gynaecologist because that is someone who specialises in heavy menstrual bleeding."

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