The Pain Behind Endometriosis
Endometriosis has gotten increased attention in the last year, with more and more women speaking up about it. Specifically, actress & writer Lena Dunham published The Sickest Girl, a heart wrenching depiction of her personal struggle with both the emotional and physical pain of endometriosis. Today’s article will highlight the two-fold pain behind this condition.
During a “normal” period, hormone levels drop and the inner layer of the uterus sloughs off, causing menstrual bleeding. Those that suffer from endometriosis (about 6-8% of the general female population), have uterine tissue in places it shouldn’t be, such as the ovaries. This misplaced tissue reacts in the same way to the start of menstruation as do the rest of the reproductive organs, leading to increased pain, cramping and potential structural damage.
If you are a menstruating female reading this you might be thinking, I get painful “cramps” does that mean I have endometriosis? Not necessarily. You might be experiencing primary dysmenorrhea (fancy word for painful menstruation), which is much more common and free from a causal systemic or pelvic condition. Instead, endometriosis falls into a different category called secondary dysmenorrhea. The classic triad of symptoms of endometriosis is pain with vaginal intercourse, infertility and menstrual pain. Those that have symptomatic endometriosis can experience pain so intense that it becomes debilitating. Some women also have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fainting!
If you know a thing or two about how periods work, you know they typically come about once a month. For individuals with endometriosis this is a nightmare. It means on average one to three days of missed work, social events, school, etc. a month! To put this into perspective, if someone missed just one work day a month that would lead to 12 missed days per year, not including cold & flu season or other medical situations. Missing obligations alone is distressing, but having to explain why can set off a stress spiral since dysmenorrhea has been normalized by society. In fact, many women aren’t diagnosed with this condition until they attempt to conceive because they believed their period cramps were “normal”. So trying to explain why you can’t attend an event due to menstrual cramps leads to judgemental comments and social pressure, especially from others who may not understand the severity of the pain. Having a greater understanding of this condition in the general population would limit the many hurdles endometriosis patients have to overcome.
There are support groups available for those who can relate to this struggle of endometriosis. Check out http://endometriosisnetwork.com/support-groups/ which has some options by location if you are interested. There are many alternative treatment options available for both primary and secondary dysmenorrhea including diet modifications, acupuncture, and botanicals that are effective in pain reduction. Book an appointment at the RSNC to find out whether this is right for you!