The Ghost of Endometriosis Haunts the Women of the World

Even though the Endometriosis World Wide March took place yesterday (as of this writing) in more than 50 cities all over the planet, including Washington D.C., we’re still in the middle of Endometriosis Awareness month. And that was the point of that event MC’ed by journalist Mika Brzezinski and sponsored by singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow and TV actress Stephanie March, amongst others; to raise awareness about the million nameless women who suffer from endometriosis – approximately 5.5 million only in North America. One out of every 8 women are affected by this disorder; despite of this ubiquitousness it remains largely inconspicuous in most media.

To be fair though, that lack of awareness should not be immediately chalked up to the disinterest of news outlets, but to the covert nature of the disease itself. Oftentimes, endometriosis is mistaken for menstrual cramps. In fact, some of its common symptoms include painful periods, intercourse pain, and excessive bleeding, among others. Moreover, it can mimic other conditions. Many women are diagnosed with endometriosis when they seek treatment for infertility – about 30% to 40% of women who have endometriosis are infertile, placing this condition among the top three causes of female infertility. 
Believe it or not, many women (especially preteens and teenagers) withstand the symptoms of endometriosis for 6 to 10 years before they are properly diagnosed. Can you imagine living for half a decade with cramps and pelvic and intestinal pain so strong that it can actually disrupt your daily activities and lower the quality of your life and your relationships? Yet many women write it off as part of their periods because it usually takes place before and during menstruation. Talk about your higher thresholds for pain. In endometriosis, tissue that would otherwise line the inside of the uterus grows outside of it. Nevertheless, that displaced endometrial tissue continues to function as it would under normal circumstances, thickening, breaking down and bleeding with each period.
If this sounds as insidious as, say, cancer, that’s no coincidence. Though benign, endometriosis shares features with some forms of cancer; for instance, it can spread, invade, and harms several organs outside of the reproductive system. The cause of this disorder has not been accurately determined yet, but it is widely believed that the root lies in retrograde menstruation. This anomalous menstruation occurs when blood that contains endometrial cells backs up through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity. Other potential causes of endometriosis include embryonic cell growth, surgical scar implantation, endometrial cell transport, and immune system disorder. 
Although this condition can cause infertility, one of the main risk factors is, ironically, never giving birth. Other risk factors are having at least one relative with endometriosis, any medical condition that deters the passage of menstrual flow out of the body, a history of pelvic infection, and uterine abnormalities. In addition to the aforementioned infertility, endometriosis can also potentially lead to ovarian cancer. Certain studies have concluded that endometriosis only marginally increases the risk of ovarian cancer but still, that’s something you can surely do without. 
Why do so many women wait years to get themselves checked for endometriosis? It’s hard to say; perhaps they don’t want to be the girl who cried wolf. However, healthcare practitioners have at their disposal a multitude of tests to diagnose this disorder. Those tests include pelvic exams, ultrasounds, and laparoscopies. There is no cure for endometriosis, if found, but there are several avenues of treatment, such as pain medications, hormone therapy (hormonal contraceptives, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) agonists and antagonists, medroxyprogesterone, danazol), and surgery. Women who have endometriosis and are trying to become pregnant can resort to conservative surgery and assisted reproductive technologies.

Join the Conversation 

Topic: Endometriosis: The Invisible Disease & the Women Who Suffer
Special Guests: Endo Sister, Arielle Dance & Jessica Clarkson, Program Director at The Endometriosis Network Canada
When: March 14, 2014 at 11am PST/2pm ET
Where: Twitter using the hashtag #PeriodTalk