Endometriosis Awareness Month: Here’s All You Need to Know
Every March, endometriosis is spotlighted, and you can help spread awareness for this disease that affects millions of women.
According to research, roughly 10% of reproductive age women around the world suffer from Endometriosis. However, this debilitating and life-altering disease can go unnoticed for years. that’s why it's important to put the spotlight on endometriosis this March.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory illness that occurs when tissue similar to that inside of the uterus begins to grow and implant outside the uterus and other places it should not, including regions in the pelvis like the bladder, bowls, intestines, and ovaries. In rare cases it has even been known to migrate to the lungs or diaphragm.
These lesions respond to a woman’s monthly hormone cycle and bleed when a woman has her period. This displaced tissue can cause pain, scarring, constipation, chronic inflammation, adhesions, infertility, and a plethora of other issues for those who suffer. The cause of this disease isn’t totally certain, but women are more likely to have endometriosis if other women in their immediate family suffer from it as well.
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
Although this disease is common, affecting around 200 million women, the path to getting an official diagnosis can be long, hard, and frustrating. On average, it takes a woman with symptoms around seven years to finally be diagnosed with the disease and to start treatment.
The tedious path to diagnosis is often due to misleading symptoms (women are often misdiagnosed with diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, or ovarian cysts). There is also a lack of awareness for the disease and misconceptions around a women’s menstrual cycle symptoms often prevent adequate diagnostic testing. For example, many believe that extremely painful periods are normal, when they are, in fact, not.
Also, the only current way to receive an official, certain diagnosis is by undergoing laparoscopic surgery on the pelvis, where surgeons insert a camera into the pelvis to inspect for endometriosis lesions and attempt to remove them.
What are the symptoms?
This chronic illness can show up in every woman’s body differently. Common symptoms and indicators include:
- Pelvic pain
- Severe, painful menstrual cramps
- Pain with sexual intercourse
- Abnormal periods
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Chronic fatigue
- Nerve pain caused by chronic inflammation
Some women also report other symptoms like chronic bloating, back pain, leg pain, nausea, and more. Symptoms also tend to get worse during periods.
Endometriosis also has different levels of severity. Doctors classify these levels as:
- Stage 1: minimal
- Stage 2: mild
- Stage 3: moderate
- Stage 4: severe
Different stages refer to the size, amount, and location of endometriosis lesions in the body.
How is Endometriosis treated?
Currently there is no cure for endometriosis, and much of the treatment is meant to manage symptoms. A few options include:
- both prescription and over-the-counter pain killers can help decrease inflammation and reduce pain.
- Some physicians recommend hormonal birth control to control estrogen levels in the body (estrogen is tied to endometriosis growth).
- Laparoscopic surgery is used to both diagnose endometriosis and remove lesions to relieve pain.
- Hysterectomies are sometimes performed as a last resort due to irreversible damage. Though it is often a misconception that hysterectomy can cure endometriosis, which isn’t the case.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is a disease that affects millions of women and can severely impact their quality of life, yet many are unaware of those who suffer (or that they themselves are suffering) due to lack of awareness and lack of funding for research.
This March, you can help spread awareness and help women all over the world by learning more about the disease, talking to loved ones who may have endometriosis-like symptoms and encouraging them to seek help, and sharing facts and information about the disease through social media.
Making a regularly scheduled visit with your gynecologist is also always a good idea to keep your own reproductive health in check.
Helpful websites that can provide more information and resources about endometriosis include: The Endometriosis Foundation of America and Speak Endo. Your willingness to learn about endometriosis and spread awareness can help make a difference for all who suffer from this disease.