Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Endometriosis Awareness Month: Understanding a Common Condition

Endometriosis is a common condition plaguing women around the world, with an estimated one in every ten experiencing the disease. When endometriosis takes place, the tissue normally found in the womb grows elsewhere, from the pelvis to the abdomen and even the lungs. The growing womb tissue can cause severe pain in women, along with infertility and other debilitating effects. Although it is prevalent among women of reproductive age, endometriosis is often misunderstood and widely misdiagnosed at its onset. For that reason, March is deemed Endometriosis Awareness Month each year. Throughout the month, individuals of all ages are encouraged to increase their understanding of what endometriosis is, how it is diagnosed, as well as the treatment options and support available to women living with the condition.

Symptoms and Warning Signs

Endometriosis comes with a variety of symptoms and warning signs, with the most common being pain during menstruation that leaves women unable to function normally. In addition to period discomfort, often referred to as dysmenorrhea, that exceeds normal levels of pain, women with endometriosis may also experience the following:
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Discomfort with bowel movements or urination
  • Excessive bleeding, either during or in between periods
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Back and abdomen pain 
While these symptoms are common, they often range in severity for women with endometriosis. Depending on how large the tissue growth is and where it is located, women may also experience shortness of breath or trouble breathing.

Endometriosis does not have one singular cause, which makes it a complex and difficult to understand condition. Some women who experience retrograde menstruation may ultimately be diagnosed with endometriosis. Others may have hormones transform into embryonic cells which then implant in other areas of the body, or problems with an immune disorder that leads to tissue growth outside the reproductive organs. In any case of endometriosis, there is a high probability that it will be misdiagnosed initially given the complexity of its symptoms and causes.

Diagnosis of Endometriosis

The reason endometriosis is so often misdiagnosed for another condition, or no condition at all, is just as complex as the condition itself. High rates of misdiagnosis and medical negligence claims occur with endometriosis because of the stigma attached to menstruation pain, explains a solicitor that works with these type of cases. Some medical providers simply connect the symptoms of endometriosis with made-up or exaggerated period discomfort – something women are encouraged to work through alone. In other cases, endometriosis may be incorrectly diagnosed as a sexually transmitted infection, a urinary tract infection, or irritable bowel syndrome.

These issues with endometriosis misdiagnosis often mean women wait more than eight years to receive the correct information and education about their disease. When this takes place, endometriosis patients are left feeling hopeless, with no real recourse for their pain or other debilitating symptoms. For some, a course of treatment for another condition is suggested, which provides no respite for the underlying problem. This is why getting the right diagnosis is critical to help women with endometriosis, no matter how severe their symptoms. Currently, the disease is only diagnosable through laparoscopy from a trained specialist, to which many women are never referred.

Treatment and Support

Women who are properly diagnosed with endometriosis have several options for treatment, including surgery to remove the tissue growth outside the reproductive organs. Some doctors suggest less invasive approaches to treatment first, however, such as lifestyle changes to cut out dairy and gluten, increased physical activity, and stress reduction strategies at home. Pain medication may also be recommended when women are unable to function as they normally would.

One of the most helpful aspects of endometriosis treatment, however, is support from friends, family members, and members of the medical community who understand that the disease is a real issue that has impacts on a woman’s life. Throughout Endometriosis Awareness Month, there are several events and educational sessions put on by charitable organizations, designed to not only support and encourage women living with the disease, but also to help supporters recognize the best ways to provide help when it is needed most.

This is a guest blog entry.

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