This March I am celebrating a different kind of madness. It has nothing to do with college basketball; nor is it related to four leaf clovers, egg shaped candy or seder plates. No, this March is for reproductive health education and raising awareness about endometriosis. There is nothing nice about endometriosis, even the word is cumbersome to say. This March, we need to talk about endometriosis and reproductive health and we are going to talk about it; because the state of reproductive care surrounding endometriosis is not OK and it’s not going to get better until more people know about endometriosis and the facts surrounding it.
It is estimated that 1 out of every 10 women has endometriosis. Endometriosis is a secondary autoimmune disease that occurs when the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) grows outside of the uterus. Common places for this tissue growth is outside of the uterus, on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, within the pelvic cavity, on the pelvic floor, and on the bowels. In extremely rare cases endometriosis can be found growing up towards and on the liver, lungs, brain and on the central nervous system. These growths respond to the menstrual cycle the same way that the lining of the uterus does. Each month, the lining builds up, breaks down and then sheds (aka ‘your period’).
When a woman gets her period the broken down lining exits the body as menstrual blood through the vagina. When a woman has endometriosis, the tissue and blood from the endometrial growths found outside of the uterus have no way of leaving the body. This results in internal bleeding and inflammation; both of which can cause chronic pain, infertility, scar tissue formation, adhesions and bladder and bowel complications. Women with endometriosis also suffer from higher rates of allergies, yeast infections, asthma, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, other autoimmune diseases (such as hypothyroidism and lupus and others) and increased rates of ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and brain cancer.
There is no cure for endometriosis and treatments leave a lot to be desired. Common treatments include oral contraceptives, GnRH agonists, progesterone therapies, surgery and hysterectomy. Since endometriosis usually appears during the reproductive years, hysterectomy is not a welcomed option and yet is commonly prescribed. Surgery does not cure endometriosis, in many cases the growths reappear within five years. Hysterectomy does not cure endometriosis, with 40% of women see a reoccurrence of their symptoms. There is no cure for endometriosis.
This March we need to raise awareness. It’s not a comfortable topic but that is no reason for millions of women to suffer in silence with no known cure. The discomfort society feels in talking openly about menstruation or uteri or vaginas is no reason to deny any woman the right to proper reproductive care. 1 in 10 women have endometriosis. These women are your friends, neighbors, sisters, co-workers, lovers, girlfriends, cousins, aunts, nieces, mothers, and fellow humans. It takes an average of 7 years to get a proper diagnosis and even longer to find an effective treatment plan (if any). This is about proper reproductive care, about millions of women who are embarrassed to talk about painful periods, about millions of women who suffer in silence. It needs to stop.
This is not a call to arms but a call to uterus(es). This month lets promote reproductive care and raise awareness for endometriosis. Ask me about my uterus, ask those you care about, about their uterus. Yes, it sounds strange, but how else are we to start the discussion and break the stigma against talking about reproductive illness; especially if we can’t even say uterus or vagina without snickering or feeling as embarrassed as a third grader would. Please help us raise awareness this March; share this article, share your story, start a conversation, ask a loved one about their uterus and break the silence!