Because so many women experience dysfunctional menstrual cycles, doctors may find it challenging to diagnose reproductive and sexual health issues. One of the most difficult conditions to diagnose correctly is endometriosis, a condition that affects millions of women around the globe. That’s why the perfect time to focus on this widespread but underdiagnosed women’s health issue is during Endometriosis Awareness Week, which happens to be March 3rd through the 9th, 2022.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is when uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus. Although this tissue can appear in any part of the body, it is most prevalent in the pelvic area. During the menstrual cycle, the tissue reacts to hormones by growing and bleeding in the same way that the internal lining of the uterus does. This can cause chronic inflammation and the development of painful scar tissue in areas that are not designed to withstand the unique functions of the uterus.
Pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis. While most women experience pain during their menstrual cycles, it can occur at other times as well.
- Before or after menstruation
- At ovulation
- When urinating
- During or after sexual intercourse
Other symptoms that can occur include:
- Constipation or diarrhea, particularly during menstruation
- Abdominal bloating
- Pain centered in the lower back region
- Heavy or irregular bleeding
- Fatigue and nausea
- Painful bowel movements
What’s more, infertility is present in 30% to 50% of women with endometriosis, physically and emotionally impacting those who wish to become pregnant. In fact, research indicates that women with endometriosis may have less natural ability to have offspring and a lower live birth rate.
With an estimated 176 million of women worldwide having endometriosis, diagnosing this disease should be reasonably simple. Unfortunately, this is not the case and a significant reason why a broader understanding of this pervasive women’s health condition is necessary.
The Struggle Of Diagnosing Endometriosis
On average, a woman with endometriosis waits seven and a half years before being correctly diagnosed. The symptoms can vary dramatically and because so many other conditions exhibit some of the same symptoms, doctors often misdiagnose endometriosis. A Diagnosis study published in 2021 found that delays in seeking consultation can hinder a timely diagnosis of endometriosis as well as influence the effectiveness of patient/provider interactions and promote inadequate assessment of symptoms.
Getting An Accurate Diagnosis
It’s common for those with endometriosis to experience no symptoms. In many cases, there is no specific correlation between the symptoms the woman is experiencing, the severity of those symptoms and the extent of the endometriosis diagnosis. A patient with a very mild case may experience severe symptoms, while someone with a significant case may experience only mild, transitory symptoms.
Before a doctor can plan an effective treatment for endometriosis, there has to be a definitive diagnosis. The most reliable method of diagnosing this condition is a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy. During this procedure, the doctor inserts a thin scope through a small incision in the abdomen. This scope allows the physician to look for endometrial lesions, often doing a biopsy or removal of a small sample of tissue at the same time.
Once there is a clear diagnosis, the doctor can recommend surgical and/or medical treatment. Certain drugs can effectively treat the disease, but most do not recommend these treatments for long-term use because of the potential side effects. While endometriosis has no cure, there are ways to mitigate the symptoms. Some of the most common treatments include:
- Pain management
- Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
- Hormonal suppression methods
- Surgical removal of tissue, which may include a possible hysterectomy
The Importance Of Therapy
While medications or surgical interventions for endometriosis can be helpful, other therapies have value as well. According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, lifestyle modification, physical therapy or massage may help mitigate some of the recurring pain associated with endometriosis. These approaches can help women with endometriosis decrease stress and improve muscle tone, leading to a better quality of life.
Women with endometriosis can also consider biofeedback, which teaches patients to identify pain signals and manage responses by controlling their breathing and heart rate. Another beneficial technique is transcutaneous electrical nerve (TEN) stimulation, which uses electricity to stimulate the skin overlying painful trigger points and can be done by using portable TEN devices.
Exercise is also extremely valuable to women with endometriosis. Through exercise, women can improve muscle strength, elevate their moods, lower stress and achieve a greater sense of well-being. While people with endometriosis can participate in all forms of exercise, they may need to adjust the duration or intensity of their activities during their cycles.
Endometriosis Awareness Week
Each year, Endometriosis Awareness Week aims to bring attention to women with endometriosis, show appreciation for their caregivers and pursue several goals such as:
- Promoting greater women’s health awareness
- Understanding the debilitating and disabling nature of this disease
- Highlighting the consequences a woman faces when living with endometriosis, the impact it can have on her family and how it can affect all those who care for her
- Creating improved understanding of this disease among medical professionals, those in the education sector, employers, politicians and society as a whole
- Showcasing best practices for providing consistent care to those suffering from the disease and stress the importance of readily available treatment for all women, regardless of where they may live
- Providing opportunities for people living with endometriosis to play an active role in making a difference for other women
Endometriosis is a global problem that affects a majority of the female population. The medical field has come a long way in treating this widespread issue, but there’s still a long way to go before this condition receives the recognition it deserves. Here at Raintree Systems, we raise our hands in solidarity with all women of the world during Endometriosis Awareness Week and support advocacy efforts for Women’s History Month as well. In fact, here are some of our other blog topics regarding women’s health: