I was diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 16 years old and even though I've lived with it for a long time I'm still never quite prepared for how much pain I'm going to experience. Over-the-counter medications like paracetamol and ibuprofen don't touch it; I was prescribed mefenamic acid but with its numerous side effects it did more harm than good. So I've mainly been relying on a combination of head pads, dietary supplements, distraction techniques and prayer (if crying out 'please god, make it stop' counts as prayer...) Then a few weeks ago I was watching a video about a device that promised to deliver pain-free periods. I had to try it.
Livia is essentially a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation machine. When stimulated, nonnociceptive fibres – nerves which can't transmit pain signals – indirectly inhibit the firing of Aδ and C fibres, which in turn inhibits the firing of a projection neuron, therefore blocking the transmission of pain stimuli. TENS machines emit an electrical current to stimulate nonnociceptive fibres – to say that the machine itself stops the pain is too simplistic. The makers of Livia are reluctant to call it a TENS machine, but they do concede that it works on the gate control theory outlined above. It is more expensive than similar devices but, crucially, it is smaller, lighter and far more discreet. It clips on to the waistband of your trousers or skirt and can be worn under clothing, allowing you to go about with your day as normal.
The electrical current is delivered via two electrodes, placed 10–15cm apart on your lower stomach or back. When you first turn it on (or turn it up) there is a slight shock – it's doesn't hurt but it is quite an interesting sensation. You'll know you've found the right level when you can hardly feel anything, but if your cramps are particularly painful, it might be necessary to increase the strength of the pulse every thirty minutes or so. The Livia can be worn for up to ten hours, but I would not suggest wearing it while sleeping. (And obviously it can't be worn in the shower or bath...) There are also some other limitations – it is not suitable for those with a pacemaker or for those who experience seizures. The electrodes should not be positioned on the head, neck, chest, over broken skin or in close proximity to cancerous legions.
So...does it work? The honest answer is sometimes. It didn't do much to stop the very intense cramps I get on the first few days (I suspect the only thing that's going to stop them is a hysterectomy) but it did help between cramps and allowed me to be more active generally. If your pain doesn't typically confine you to bed then this would probably work perfectly for you, especially if, like me, you're loathe to take any kind of medication. Ideally, the next generation device would have some connectivity – an app on your phone that sends you a notification when the battery is running low would be particularly useful – and an indicator to show how high or low you have set the pulses. It takes about two hours to charge and a full battery lasts for about 12 hours. If you're looking for a pill-free option, I would definitely recommend giving it a try.
£145 | mylivia.com
Review sample kindly provided by Livia.