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Endometriosis: Shedding light onto a dark disease

By LaToya C. Gardner

Rowan County Health Department

Did you know killer cramps and heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle are not normal?

Endometriosis is a disease of the female reproductive system that affects women during childbearing age through menopause.

Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus, is found outside the uterus on other parts of the body.

Generally, endometriosis is found in the pelvic cavity. It can attach to any of the female reproductive organs (uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries), the uterosacral ligaments (which holds the uterus in place), the peritoneum (a large membrane in the abdominal cavity that connects and supports internal organs) or any of the spaces between the uterus/vagina and rectum. Endometriosis can also be found, though less commonly, on the bladder, bowel, intestines, appendix or rectum.

This disease affects roughly 176 million women worldwide, and 1 in 10 girls and women in the U.S. will be impacted by endometriosis. This disease can impact all aspects of their lives including school, careers, mental health, finances, relationships and overall well-being.

Endometriosis does not discriminate and affects women equally across all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. This disease is viewed as being a silent assassin due to there being an average of a 10-year delay in being diagnosed with endometriosis.

Many women brush off their menstrual pains as being normal, which contributes to the extensive amount of time that it takes for diagnosis. If you have symptoms, the most common symptoms of endometriosis is pelvic pain in addition to, killer cramps, long periods, heavy menstrual flow, bowel and urinary disorders, nausea or vomiting, and pain during sexual activities.

This disease is one of the leading causes of infertility in women of childbearing age. While there is currently no cure for endometriosis, there are many treatment options to assist with the symptoms. Most women will not experience all of these symptoms or even any symptoms.

There is no test for endometriosis, meaning patients cannot have their blood, urine or saliva tested to confirm the disease. The only way to verify endometriosis is to undergo a diagnostic laparoscopy with pathology confirmation of biopsy specimens.

A laparoscopy is a procedure where a thin telescope-like instrument is inserted into the pelvic cavity through a small cut near the navel. A diagnostic laparoscopy is the most reliable method for diagnosing endometriosis. A diagnosis of endometriosis should not be considered unless the endometriosis has been seen during a laparoscopy. Most gynecologists also insist that a biopsy (sample) of the endometrial tissue be examined by a pathologist before confirming the diagnosis.

Treatment is determined on a case-by-case basis and is ultimately a decision that will be made by you and your doctor. If you feel that you may be experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms, it is never too early or too late to take these concerns to your gynecologist.

Being diagnosed and living with endometriosis can affect your emotional health. It’s important when dealing with any health issue or other difficult situation, that you acknowledge and process your emotions. Some may even go through the stages of grieving. The process of grieving consist of five stages which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial — This stage can vary case by case. Some may never deny anything. Endometriosis is considered a serious disease. For some it may seem easier to deny the effects of the disease than to admit it

Anger — Many can become angry with the doctors, the nurses, life situations, and even their own body. Some questions like “Why me?” may to come to mind. Some women may even began to hate their bodies and look at them as being broken.

Bargaining — This stage will trigger past regrets even over things you have no control over. You begin to say things like “This is my fault.”

Depression — During this stage, you may start to say the following things to yourself: “I am broken,” “I am undeserving,” “What kind of woman is unable to do what her body was designed to do?” or “I will never experience the miracle of life growing in me.” Along with feelings of sadness, crying spells and pain, you begin to worry about cost of treatment, losing your job and the disappointment that you may not be able to carry a pregnancy.

Acceptance — This stage in the process of grieving varies from person to person. An individual enters this stage when they realize they are not in this fight alone and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Taking charge of your well-being will take time. Finding a great support system, attending therapy and other helpful activities will help you channel through your grief.

The Endometriosis Association, an international nonprofit organization with members worldwide, focuses on three equally important areas of emphasis: First, we provide support to girls and women suffering from endometriosis — a chronic, painful hormonal and immunological disease — and because families are often impacted by the debilitating effects the disease has on their loved ones, we extend our support services to them as well.

Second, we implement education programs and produce informative materials for those affected by the disease, for the public and for medical professionals.

Third, we conduct and promote research in collaboration with leading medical researchers worldwide in order to find better treatments and ultimately a cure for this life-altering, potentially disabling disease. We can be found on the internet at www.EndometriosisAssn.org.

Resources

LaToya C. Gardner MHA, is an accountant technician II at the Rowan County Health Department.

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