What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic and painful disease, in which the tissue that lines your uterus (endometrium), starts growing outside of your uterus in places it does not belong. These growths, called lesions or implants, can cause severe pain and inflammation throughout the month. In many cases, people suffer from endometriosis unaware as doctors often misdiagnose endometriosis, brushing off the pain as a particularly bad period or other “female troubles”.
An easy way to remember the symptoms of endometriosis is to think of the three P’s:
- Painful Periods
- Pelvic Pain
- Pain with Sex
Causes and Risks
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. Many scientists think that it happens because of a process called retrograde menstruation. This is when the tissue of the uterus flows out the wrong direction during the period- through the fallopian tubes. This out-of-place tissues can attach and start growing on surfaces and organs in the pelvic region. There are a couple other theories about the cause of endometriosis. These include the immune system not destroying endometrium cells outside the uterus, and normal cells in the pelvic area changing into endometrial cells. Since scientists aren’t sure about the cause, specific risks are widely unknown. However, you may be at risk if you have a family history of endometriosis, starting your period at an early age (before 11), a short cycle (27 days), and abnormally long or heavy periods.
While not everyone experiences the same path to diagnosis, here are some general steps that can be taken if you think you may have endometriosis
- Make a doctor’s appointment
- Talk to your doctor about your symptoms, including if they have gotten worse over time or impact your day-to-day life. Your doctor may refer you to a gynecologist if you do not already have one.
- Pelvic Exam
- After discussing your symptoms, your doctor may give you a pelvic exam to feel for any lesions, scarring, or cysts.
- Sometimes, ovarian cysts that form as a result of endometriosis can be seen on an ultrasound.
- Blood test
- Your doctor may recommend a blood test to rule out any other conditions
- By trying different treatment options, your doctor will better be able to tell if you have endometriosis. Some treatments include painkillers, hormonal birth control, and medication that reduces estrogen.
- The final stage is to undergo a laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgery used to both diagnose and treat endometriosis.
It can take between 6 and 10 years on average to diagnose endometriosis. According to a 1998 study, 1 out of 3 woman consulted between 3 and 4 doctors before receiving a diagnosis. There are multiple reasons for this. The first is symptoms being dismissed as just “bad periods”. The other is that symptoms of endometriosis can resemble multiple other conditions.
Women’s Health Issues
Thousands of women in America are misdiagnosed everyday, whether that be a result of doctor’s not taking women’s pain seriously, or the lack of medical research done on woman’s health issues. Due to biological differences, symptoms and consequences of a disease present differently between men and woman, but historically the health needs of woman, apart from reproductive concern, have lagged in medical research. In 1985, the Public Health Service Task Force concluded that “the historical lack of research focus on women’s health concerns has compromised the quality of health information available to women as well as the health care they receive”. Since the publication of the report, there has been more attention given to women’s health issues, from both governmental and non-governmental organizations. While there has been much progress made on things like breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cervical cancer, there has been little to no progress made on maternal morbidity and mortality, autoimmune diseases, non-malignant gynecological disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease among others. Additionally, a committee dedicated to women’s health found that the information being found from various studies is not being communicated to women, either due to complex implications of the study or a result that competes with the marketing forces of industries.