What Is Retrograde Menstruation – Bleeding Backwards
Retrograde menstruation. If you haven’t experienced it or work in gynecology, chances are you haven’t heard of it.
No, it has nothing to do with where your zodiac sign is or where Mercury is currently stationed. This is not a science fiction film, but a real side benefit of a menstruator.
However, it is what it sounds like. Declining, which means moving backwards, and menstruating … you catch my drift.
Instead of leaving the body and entering the vessel of your choice (shout out to mine Lily Cup), Period blood flows back through the body, flows through the fallopian tubes and into the abdominal cavity.
What actually happens
Believe it or not retrograde menstruation is quite common and likely happens to all menstruators, at least something. To some extent, this is a normal part of the bleeding and something you most likely don’t know when it will happen.
While it can potentially cause cramping and pelvic pain, it is probably not a cause for concern and can be treated as usual unless it is severe Treat period cramps.
As you can imagine, excess blood and tissue flowing back into the pelvis can cause potentially more serious symptoms and ailments, such as: Endometriosis.
Most of the research that has been done on retrograde menstruation has related to endometriosis. While this is helpful for people with endo, it can be limiting in finding other relevant information.
Does it cause endometriosis?
If you’re unfamiliar with it, endometriosis is a painful condition that affects about 10% of menstruating people of childbearing age, where the lining of the uterus grows outside the organ.
It is often characterized by irregular, sometimes extremely heavy periods and severe cramping or other pain in the lower back and pelvis.
In the 1920s Dr. John A Sampson developed the theory that endometriosis is caused by retrograde menstruation. He believed that when blood flows backwards instead of out of the cervix and through the vagina, it deposits on the pelvic organs and grows into harmful tissue.
As you can imagine, medical research has increased dramatically over the past 100 years, but with limited focus on women’s reproductive health. While this theory has not been fully debunked, there is a lack of evidence.
There is evidence against this theory in people who have had hysterectomies and who have been diagnosed with endometriosis, as well as in men who have undergone estrogen therapy to treat prostate cancer.
These are two populations who have developed endometriosis without retrograde menstruation or any menstruation at all.
Nevertheless, Sampson’s theory remains. In part because endometriosis is largely misunderstood and underdiagnosed since it can only be definitively diagnosed through surgery.
One idea That supports Sampson’s theory: although retrograde menstruation is incredibly common, it is possible that people who develop the disorder have weakened immune systems or a genetic predisposition that prevents their bodies from migrating when endometrial cells migrate through the fallopian tubes into the pelvic cavity unable to clean the cells, resulting in a painful build-up of tissue, also known as endometriosis.
But wait … science!
One study who observed both women with and without endometriosis found some interesting evidence that normalized retrograde menstruation and negated Sampson’s theory.
By tracking the number of cells in the subject’s body, the researchers found that there was an increased amount of leukocytes, hemoglobin, and erythrocytes in the subject’s peritoneal fluid during menstruation.
In layman’s terms, the researchers found a higher amount of red blood cells in the abdominal fluid, which lubricates the abdominal wall and pelvic cavity, during the period of their subjects. This is pretty clear evidence of the idea that retrograde menstruation is actually happening and is incredibly normal.
However, they did not find an increased amount of endometrial cells in the pelvic fluid of people with endometriosis. While this doesn’t support the idea that retrograde menstruation can lead to endometriosis, it doesn’t necessarily negate it either.
It is normal
If you still have questions about retrograde menstruation, you are not alone. All in all, it’s a perfectly normal part of a bleeding person, but it’s difficult to keep track of how much is going in or out and what that means in the bigger picture of women’s health – especially those with reproductive health disorders.
So if you ever hear someone come up with the idea of retrograde menstruation, reply, “I know it sounds wild, but don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal!”
If you suspect that you are having retrograde menstruation, don’t worry! You and about 90% of other people who menstruate.
However, if you experience symptoms such as severe cramping, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, or other unusual symptoms during your period, it may be time to see your doctor as this could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Natasha’s passion for reproductive health began at the age of fourteen when she was present at the birth of her youngest sister. Her incredible experiences as a birthing doula gave her insights into the magical realm of childbirth, pregnancy and everything in between. Your role as an obstetrician is her way of serving as an activist. She uses writing as an important educational tool to bring about changes in our view of reproductive health as a whole.