When it comes to diseases affecting women, few are as under-diagnosed and misunderstood as endometriosis.
Back in the Middle Ages, severe menstrual cramps were associated with madness and immorality. Women who complained of painful periods were often accused of faking their symptoms in order to avoid work.
Sadly, not enough has changed.
Women’s reproductive health is still a surprisingly mysterious and almost taboo topic to many, making it difficult for sufferers of endometriosis to get a clear diagnosis and treatment.
As a consequence, many women suffer in silence.
It’s estimated that one in 10 women are affected by endometriosis. Chances are, you know someone who has it. Maybe it’s your mother who has endured agonising pain from ovarian cysts, or a work colleague who can barely function when she has her period, or a friend who is struggling with infertility caused by ‘endo’.
Every endo story is different, yet still punctuated by the same themes – intense pain, fatigue, and even infertility.
These symptoms are caused by the disease wreaking havoc among a woman’s reproductive organs with tissue growing abnormally outside the uterus. Sometimes, endometriosis can cause this tissue, to cause painful cysts in the ovaries, and even to cause organs to stick together and become twisted and inflamed.
At its worst, endometriosis can cause all organs in the pelvis to stick together causing frozen pelvis.
Hardly a ‘bit of a tummy ache’.
More like ongoing torturous pain that would reduce even the toughest individual into a teary mess.
The disease currently has no definitive evidence of what causes it. What’s even worse is that although 176 million women suffer from endometriosis worldwide, the majority of women with the disease don’t even get diagnosed for on average 7 years after the onset of symptoms.
One quick Google search clearly indicates why.
Stories abound from women who have had their pain literally ignored for decades.
Teenage girls are being labelled ‘lazy’ when they can’t participate in school sports due to period pain. Women are getting scoffed at by work colleagues who snicker that ‘she’s putting it on’ or dramatising menstrual pain when taking time off work due to endo.
We clearly have a long way to go in bringing this disease into public awareness.
Fortunately, a few voices are starting to lead the way in bringing endo attitudes out of the dark ages.
One of these voices is actress, author, and screenwriter Lena Dunham, who has documented her battle with endometriosis on social media. She has published detailed accounts of her chronic condition, describing her debilitating pain, ER visits, and eventual hysterectomy at the age of just 31 because of the disease.
What’s more, Lena’s personal account also highlights the non-physical effects of endometriosis. From missing school, losing out on professional opportunities, and now being robbed of the chance to give birth, endometriosis impacts all aspects of this woman’s life.
Lena’s story is not unusual.
Women with endometriosis suffer physically, financially, and emotionally. Being dismissed as ‘difficult’ or ‘looking for sympathy’ certainly adds insult to injury.
It needs to change. But where to begin?
Greater awareness is the first step in helping women suffering from this disease.
And this first step begins with us. It’s time to reject the myth that severe menstrual pain is normal. It’s not, and it needs to be taken seriously.
If you experience heavy or prolonged periods coupled with abdominal pain that can’t be managed by over-the-counter medication such as Ibuprofen, please seek advice from a gynaecologist.
Tests for endometriosis include a pelvic exam, ultrasound and sometimes a laparoscopy to confirm the presence of the disease and the extent to which it has progressed.
Once diagnosed, a treatment plan will be designed to give you the best quality of life possible.
Don’t suffer in silence. Northside Gynaecology is an all-women practice offering advice, treatment and support for a wide range of gynaecological issues including endometriosis.
Book an appointment at one of our convenient Brisbane locations by calling us on 07 3088 9005.