Endometriosis...

Put your hand up if you have ever felt personally victimised by your own period?

Yeah that’s what I thought.

Next question. 

Those who have crazy Niagara-falls menstrual flow, scream into your pillow levels of pain, not knowing whether to vomit or shit yourself, bed bound for days, seeing stars and passing out *breathe* periods, please step forward… yep thats what I thought. 

Now if this sounds like a regular week with your period, please please please go and speak with your doctor, large amounts of blood and pain aren’t normal! We need to denormalise this.

On this weeks article, we delve into the complex and anger inducing topic of endometriosis. Why am I angry? Well apart from the general lack of listening skills GP's have towards women health, endometriosis takes on average eight years to diagnose. Yep, in that time I could have gone to med school, graduated and diagnosed myself.

The scary part is that it disguises itself as a bad period, not much different from list I gave above. That’s why it’s so tricky to get a diagnoses, doctors dismiss it as heavy periods and send you away with the pill. On average more than half of women have to visit a GP more than 10 times before they are referred onto a OB/GYN specialist. Apart from the chronic pain, potential infertility and painful sex; endometrial tissue can grow outside the uterine walls, extend around your body and attach itself to different vital organs. In some severe cases women have chosen to have a hysterectomy. Like with most health issues, if this had been caught sooner the outcome could have been entirely different. 

Endometriosis was first labelled as its own disease in the 1920’s, before then it fell under the broad umbrella term of female hysteria, where a monthly period allowed for a women’s devilish and unruly spirit to be released. Fast forward to the twenty-first century, not much in terms of understanding female needs have changed. We are still fed that same tired narrative of women not thinking straight or lashing out just because they are on their periods… “does someone need a tampon?” joke releases an anger a 5-foot nothing person shouldn’t posses.  

At this point in time there is no known cure for endometriosis, doctors only have short term solutions that can help with pain management, reduce inflammation and keep endo tissue in check. Traditional medicine prescribes that over the counter painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen can help manage the pain; the combined pill will help manage hormones and the build up of endometrial tissue. A laparoscopy will help to confirm if you 100% have endo, from that point if the pain persists and so does the spreading, surgery may be offered to cut away at patches of the endo tissue. Like I mentioned before, in extreme cases, hysterectomy’s can be performed, but running up to that, operations to remove parts of the organs affected by the disease is offered.  

Endo doesn’t fit into the nicely organised box that traditional modern medicine has laid out for disease. And with only 8% of UK teenage girls aware of endometriosis in comparison to other well known diseases, there is a huge amount of understanding to be done in this space. Sizing up endo from a functional medicine point of view, by trialing alternative holistic practices to help minimise pain and inflammation, an individual can help heal and empower themselves through self care. By listening to the inner workings of your own body and taking responsibility for your own health, a more personalised and intrinsic plan can be created. Rather than chucking a band-aid on broken leg, identifying the source of the issue helps prevent and manage chronic diseases and its mental health side affects. 

Managing endo symptoms can a take the form of:

  • Acupuncture 
  • Physical therapy 
  • Nutritional and diet counselling
  • Lifestyle changes 
  • Herbal supplements like CBD 
  • Meditation 

Pain is exhausting, period. And with constant pain over a prolonged time frame, the brain adapts and sends these severe pain signals even when the damaged tissue isn’t being aggravated. That's what makes endo a chronic illness. Doctor Katy Vincent in an article for The Guardian stated that “it’s never that a patient’s underlying anxiety causes or explains endometriosis,” Katy Vincent says. “It’s that a patient who suffers from chronic, unexplained and untreated pain will often develop an anxiety or depression condition as a result of that pain”. A poisonous stigma and a hush hush culture still exists around the topic of periods, yes I see you, you hiding your tampon up your sleeve when you go to the toilet! With twenty-seven percent of teenage girls were undecided on whether their period was normal, something needs to change! 

Reflecting the larger struggle of women’s health, the continued standardisation and dismal of women’s own experience in regards to her health fuels the neglect in areas of scientific funding and research. Biases towards race, gender and sexuality in terms of measuring pain, only further complicates disparity in level the of care given. With some believing that women of BAME background have a higher pain threshold, it leaves us with the shocking statistic that black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth. This shines a glaring light on the already pre-existing discrimination BAME women face in the sexual health services and in the wider society. 

With one in ten women being affected by endometriosis, it’s infuriating to know that treatment and research into this disease is underfunded and neglected. This is just another weed in the overgrown garden of women's reproductive health. 

Image @vsco

Further reading:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3950373/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jan/15/black-women-in-the-uk-four-times-more-likely-to-die-in-pregnancy-or-childbirth 

https://goop.com/gb-en/wellness/sexual-health/a-guide-to-understanding-and-holistically-treating-endometriosis/