March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and everyone should understand the value of raising awareness of this medical condition. Although a large number of women develop this condition and it often entails severe adverse symptoms, endometriosis does not seem to receive as much public attention as other medical conditions. This March, take some time to understand this condition and do your part to raise awareness any way you can.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a complex condition that often results in serious and painful symptoms. Endometrium typically grows on the interior of the uterine walls and thickens, breaks down, and then bleeds with each menstrual cycle. When endometrium forms on the outside of the uterine walls, it can affect the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic organs in rare cases.
During each menstrual cycle, displaced endometrium tissue acts just like normal endometrium tissue. It breaks down and bleeds, but may not have anywhere to go. Thus, endometrium tissue on the ovaries can cause endometriomas or cysts to form, eventually leading to scar tissue. The surrounding tissues may become irritated and grow fibrous adhesive tissues that bond nearby pelvic organs together. This condition commonly causes severely painful menstrual periods and other symptoms. If left unchecked, it may cause fertility problems.
Risk Factors and Symptoms
There are several indicators that may increase a woman’s risk of developing endometriosis:
- Never having children
- An early menarche or first period
- Late menopause
- Menstrual cycles less than 27days
- Exposure to or natural development of excess levels of estrogen
- Low body mass index
- Uterine structuralabnormalities
- Alcohol consumption
- Family history of endometriosis
Symptoms usually appear within a few years of a woman’s menarche, can pause during pregnancy and then disappear with menopause. The most commonly reported symptom of endometriosis is unduly painful periods, usually starting a few days prior to menstruation and lasting for several days. Women with endometriosis may also experience excessive bleeding, painful urination, bloating, or pain during intercourse.
The first line of treatment for endometriosis typically includes medication. Certain types of hormonal birth control medications can help regulate the growth and processing of endometrium tissue and ease symptoms. Hormonal intrauterine devices can prevent pregnancy for up to seven years, but they rarely treat endometriosis symptoms for this long.
If hormonal treatment does not appear effective, surgery is the next line of treatment for severe endometriosis. A surgeon will attempt to remove endometrium tissue deposits and then continue with hormonal treatment following surgery. Over-the-counter pain medicines, holistic treatments, and lifestyle changes can also improve symptoms.
Common Problems Facing Women with Endometriosis
One of the most challenging aspects of endometriosis treatment is the difficulty in obtaining an accurate diagnosis. Pain is subjective, and everyone experiences pain differently. A woman may complain of excessive menstrual pain during her periods, but her gynecologist may simply interpret this as the typical cramping and discomfort associated with menstrual periods.
According to an article published in Endometriosis News, some women have gone through 10 or more doctor visits before finally receiving referrals to specialists. Even more unfortunate is the typical wait time for an accurate endometriosis diagnosis — eight years or longer.
About 10 percent of women of childbearing age develop endometriosis, and while some manage their symptoms relatively effectively, this condition can cause a host of serious medical issues if left unchecked for too long. The most common of these related conditions is infertility. Endometrium tissue may prevent sperm from reaching eggs or even damage reproductive cells. Endometriosis can potentially interfere with any part of the fertilization and implantation process.
Failure to Address Symptoms
One of the most important reasons for raising awareness of endometriosis is to encourage gynecologists and other physicians to take patient complaints of related symptoms more seriously. From there, conduct more comprehensive screening procedures to catch endometriosis as early as possible and eliminate pain sooner than later. While this is by no means a rare or obscure condition, the symptoms are variable and often subjective, making it easy for a gynecologist to overlook or mistake for another condition.
Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis
Gynecologists’ not taking patients seriously is just one obstacle facing women in need of accurate endometriosis diagnoses; it is also very difficult to detect with imaging procedures. In many cases, a physician must perform a laparoscopic surgical inspection to confirm an endometriosis diagnosis, and the thought of undergoing this procedure deters some women from reporting their endometriosis symptoms.
Since endometriosis can be very difficult to accurately diagnose and shares symptoms with other common uterine medical issues, some women must contend with misdiagnoses for ovarian cysts or pelvic inflammatory disease. Irritable bowel syndrome can also accompany endometriosis, potentially misleading an attending physician to a misdiagnosis for a gastrointestinal issue rather than endometriosis.
How to Raise Endometriosis Awareness
There are many ways you can contribute to the public discussion on endometriosis and expand awareness of this condition. Women who have suffered from the symptoms of endometriosis should consider sharing their stories with others to potentially encourage other women in similar circumstances to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Local events are also great opportunities to increase awareness. Consider taking part in endometriosis advocacy events, such as the Worldwide March for Endometriosis or EndoMarch, at the end of March or any of the events for Endometriosis Awareness Week during the first week of March. Check your local community events guide to see if there is anything planned.
Social media is another great way to share advocacy materials, personal stories, and helpful resources for women struggling with endometriosis. Viral trends and hashtag campaigns can get a lot of people interested in an important topic in a relatively short amount of time. There are also countless petitions you could sign aimed at reducing diagnostic times for endometriosis patients and increasing the availability of care.
Endometriosis Awareness Month is a great opportunity to engage in meaningful advocacy for a condition affecting millions of women all over the world. Considering the significant diagnostic challenges facing women with endometriosis, increasing awareness could potentially help women seek treatment before their symptoms cause serious long-term medical complications.
Founder and Medical Director of ARIZONA GYNECOLOGY CONSULTANTS
Dr. Kelly Roy is a specialist in surgical gynecology and advanced laparoscopy (and hysteroscopy). She is a long-time resident of Arizona and obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering at Arizona State University before finishing her Doctorate of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1997.
Dr. Roy completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the then “Banner Good Samaritan Hospital” (now Banner University Medical Center), in Phoenix Arizona in 2001.
Well known for her teaching and surgical ability, she is on the faculty at the residency program at both Banner University Medical Center and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in central Phoenix and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix Campus. Dr. Roy has taught advanced surgical techniques to medical students, residents, fellows and colleagues for over 15 years.
Dr. Roy is also a consultant to the medical device industry and has participated in the design and clinical testing of many instruments and surgical devices available on the world-wide market today.