The abdominal pain Tamrian Mcdougal* experienced before menstruation was almost indescribable.

At the age of 15, Mcdougal was diagnosed with dysmenorrhea, painful menstruation, typically involving abdominal cramps.

While she was growing up, she was forced to miss out on important events including exams and would be incapacitated for days.

“I used to pass out on bathroom floors because of the pain. When I started working I had to take leave days after my period started. My periods were so severe it felt like I had early labour contractions,” says Mcdougal.

A professor of reproductive health at University College London has compared dysmenorrhea and severe period pain to having a heart attack, saying the issue needs to be taken seriously.

While some women struggle through their time of the month clutching hot water bottle in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other, US contraception expert Professor John Guillebaud says it doesn’t have to be this way, and more research should be done into finding treatments.

Considering one in five women suffer from crippling menstrual pain, he says: “Men don’t get it and it hasn’t been given the centrality it should have. I do believe it’s something that should be taken care of, like anything else in medicine.”

A 2012 study in the British Medical Journal BMJ found that 20% of women experience periods painful enough to interfere with daily activities.

Some countries have implemented “menstrual leave policy”, allowing women to take a paid day off during their period without dipping into sick days or vacation time.

Menstrual leave policies are recognised in Japan, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia.

Dr Peter Dejong a gynaecologist from Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, says period pains should not be taken lightly because they are a serious issue for many women, young and old.

Dejong says there are many reasons why women may suffer from period pains that make them stay at home.

“The best way to manage these pains is to get medical help to make sure that you get a proper diagnosis of the root cause of the pain.”

His message: never assume that it’s just period pain; if there is excruciating period pain, get yourself checked.

Pain can sometimes signal endometriosis, uterine fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease.

* Not her real name