National Endometriosis Awareness is observed in March, which makes it a great time to consider some interesting tidbits of information, myths in particular, you might like to know.
Endometriosis comes from the word “endometrium,” the tissue that lines the uterus. As one with a history of endometriosis, I had or possibly still have endometrial-type tissue outside my uterus.
I remember the eighth grade me, curled up on the medical bed in the school nurse’s office, feeling paralyzed by pelvic pain. With both my parents at work, I wondered how long I’d have to endure what felt like tugging on my organs that was only a little more tolerable in the fetal position. I thought excruciating pain before and during my menstrual cycle was normal because my mother had suffered the same. We were almost useless without Motrin.
According to Endometriosis.org, which facilitates sharing between women with endometriosis, physicians, scientists, and others interested in the disease, one misconception is that experiencing pain with your period is normal. Perhaps some discomfort is to be expected, but pain that becomes more of a monthly crisis, could be the result of endometriosis. If it interferes with daily living, there is a problem.
I have experienced depression every month on top of the pain; anticipating being in that state of discomfort, knowing all I could do was to take medication that could possibly damage my body in the long-term. I’d miss many hours of school, work and fun, which I’d never get back.
“‘Women’s problems’ perplexed nineteenth century doctors, who saw them as indicative of women’s unstable and delicate psychological constitutions,” says Endometriosis.org. “Even though attitudes towards women have improved during the twentieth century, some of the old beliefs still linger unconsciously, and affect the medical profession’s attitudes towards women’s complaints, including period pain.”
As I got older, it had become dangerous for me to be out and about during this time of the month, never knowing when I’d suddenly be incapacitated. I remember the 29-year-old me---a reporter sifting through reports at a desk in the police department one minute, and the next minute, paralyzed by a devastating cramp that would not let up. That day I happened to be in the right place to faint.
I awoke in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. I thanked the medic for saving me with oxygen as I felt like I was swimming in a pool of pain. At the hospital, I was given some sort of shot that made it turn off like a switch. But a short time later, during a routine exam, my gynecologist discovered an internal growth and sent me to a specialist, who recognized it as an endometrial growth that needed to be surgically removed immediately. But I intuited not to opt for immediate surgery. Instead, another doctor’s second opinion gave me an invitation to warm up to the idea of getting pregnant.
And there I learned about two more myths: The only cure for endometriosis is pregnancy. And, Endometriosis equals infertility. This doctor, who happened to have a reputation as one of the top infertility specialists in the area, said there is no cure for the disease that affects an estimated 2 to 10 percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 40. He also said it was possible that I could have trouble conceiving, but did not deem me infertile because I had an endometrial growth. In fact, he said pregnancy would likely improve my situation. He was absolutely right.
Here are some truths posted on the Johns Hopkins Medicine site:
- Women with endometriosis are more likely to have infertility or difficulty getting pregnant.
- While some women may feel excessive pain from endometriosis, others may be asymptomatic.
- Laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure, can be used to definitively diagnose and treat endometriosis.
Although I thought I had decided not to have children, my mind was instantly changed with the possibility that I may not be able to change my mind in the future. It only took three months to conceive, and that endometrial growth turned out to be the impetus for having two beautiful, healthy children. The bonus was that pregnancy came naturally and event-free, diminishing my period pain by about 75 percent. And now, at 47, I experience almost no pain. So far, pre-menopause isn’t so bad.
Here are some symptoms typical of endometriosis, which I experienced all at one point or another, excluding infertility.
- Pain, especially excessive menstrual cramps that may be felt in the abdomen or lower back.
- Pain during intercourse.
- Abnormal or heavy menstrual flow.
- Painful urination during menstrual periods.
- Painful bowel movements during menstrual periods.
- Other gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, constipation and/or nausea.
I’ve often wondered why I and several family members have this problem since the cause is unknown. One theory, says Johns Hopkins Medicine, is that during menstruation tissue backs up through the fallopian tubes into the abdomen, a sort of “reverse menstruation,” where it attaches and grows. Another theory is that endometrial tissue travels through blood or lymphatic channels the way cancer cells spread. Yet another theory is that cells can transform into endometrial cells. Unfortunately, as it is in my family, some women have predisposing genetic factors to the disease.