Endometriosis: more than just period pain

Despite the feminist progress we have made in the past century, the male body still dominates the world of medicine. As Caroline Criado Perez points out in her recent book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in the World Designed for Men, medical students learn about “anatomy and female anatomy”.

This leads to a situation where women’s physical pain is sometimes dismissed. Gender stereotypes of women being more emotional than their male counterparts adds to this also. An average woman with endometriosis in the UK will spend eight years looking for the reason for her symptoms as identified by The Guardian in 2017. Endometriosis is a disease when the womb tissue – endometrium – grows excessively in the womb or elsewhere in the body, causing severe pain, sometimes to an extent that a person must call for an ambulance. former MP Oona King had to be taken by ambulance right from the Parliament because of this condition.

It is often the case that when women, especially young women, complain about period pains, it is dismissed as customary and not abnormal. This is to do with one of the harmful gender biases we should seek to exterminate. A study this year by Division 54 of the American Psychological Division found out that adult Americans would perceive a little girl’s pain from a medical examination as exaggeration and would rate her pain lower than the pain from the same examination of a boy. Let’s face it, we perceive women’s pain as less significant than men’s pain. This is due to the fact that women, in particular regards to period pain, are just presumed to suffer. Of course, this is rooted in the general cultural narrative of valuing men over women, but we should take a wilful action and train our mind that everyone matters.

According to Endometriosis UK, a charity raising awareness of the condition and providing support for those affected by it, one in ten women suffer from the disease. So, what are common symptoms?

  • Painful periods
  • Pain starting before periods
  • Ovulation pain
  • Pain on internal examination
  • Pain during or after sex (dyspareunia)
  • Irregular bleedings
  • Bowel bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Frequent infections such as thrush
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Feeling faint during periods
  • Infertility

The reason for endometriosis to occur is unknown, but any girl or woman can develop it at any stage of life. However, it is definitely not infectious or deadly. The only way to diagnose it for sure is through laparoscopy. Unfortunately, the cure is yet to be discovered by the scientists, but the symptoms could be eased through hormonal treatment, pin management or surgically. Scans, blood tests and internal examinations are not enough to say whether a person have endometriosis or not. If you are experiencing the symptoms describe above, and proven to have no other gynaecological illness, insist on laparoscopy.

There are myths about curing endometriosis. Be aware that pregnancy and hysterectomy are not the cures. In fact, sometimes the disease starts after pregnancy or develops even after a woman’s uterus has been surgically removed.

To address the problem of undiagnosed endometriosis, we as a society should reshape our perception of women’s pain. On an individual level we can raise awareness, be attentive to our own health condition and support our friends and relatives with this disease.

More information about Endometriosis and the support you can get can be found on this website: https://www.endometriosis-uk.org

 

Image: gurleenlaicha05 kaur via Flickr

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