Endometriosis: ladies, let’s talk about it!

I fight like a girl graphicIt’s rare these days that a high profile celeb talks about anything that isn’t skin deep or filtered on Instagram. That’s why I give props to Lena Dunham (of HBO Girl’s fame) for writing an open and honest letter to her fans citing her endometriosis as the reason she will be missing from the press tour for the new season of her hit HBO show. That got me thinking, what other celebs have endometriosis? Are they just like us? Whoopi Goldberg, Hillary Clinton, Dolly Parton, Emma Bunton of the spice girls, Julianne Hough, and possibly Marilyn Monroe have all been linked to the diagnosis. That’s not surprising as 1 in 10 women have endometriosis, with more than 170 million women worldwide having already been diagnosed often after several years of debilitating pain.

1 in 10 women have endometriosis

So what exactly is endometriosis? Simply put, the tissue that lines the uterus (called endometrial tissue) somehow spreads to areas that it shouldn’t be causing pain and possible infertility. Endometrial tissue has been found in the adjacent areas of the body: vagina, cervix, rectum, abdomen, ovaries, bladder, and even the lungs or brain. Symptoms can include pelvic pain, painful intercourse, severe abdominal cramping, heavy periods that leave the woman incapable of leaving her bed, and requires the frequent use of paper towel, constipation or diarrhea, infertility or difficulty conceiving, and chronic low back pain.

What causes this terrible, invisible disease? Nobody really knows. Theories include: genetics, stress, hormone imbalance, toxins or environmental factors, a defect during embryonic development, or immune system defect. Think the symptoms sound familiar? How do we diagnose a case of endometriosis? The only way to confirm diagnosis is to “take a look” with a laparoscopic surgery which in itself introduces new injury and potential scar tissue to an already vulnerable area. At least the theory that a hysterectomy would “cure” endometriosis has been thrown out in recent years as that pesky endometrial tissue has estrogen of its own, and can re-grow in absence of a uterus. So basically our bodies can attack us from the inside at any moment without anything to be done about it?!

But wait, there’s hope! Although more research needs to be done about potential treatments and cures, there are a lot of options out there. The gold standard of diagnosis and treatment is a laparoscopy, but the tissue may grow back. Birth control or hormone therapy may help with menstrual pain and avoid a monthly relapse.

Pelvic floor PT can also help in reducing abdominal restrictions and decrease abdominal pain and cramping in addition to strengthening the core and pelvic floor muscles. Decreasing the restrictions caused by the endometrial tissue can free up the nerve endings in the abdomen decreasing pain signals sent by the entrapped nerves. Chronic pain additionally causes increased muscle tension due to our body’s protective contraction of muscles in the area that hurts. Manual techniques by a physical therapist can also help reduce this muscle tension, leading to father relief of chronic pain and faulty postures. Other forms of exercise can also be helpful including biking and walking.

Many women anecdotally report their endometriosis was “cured” after giving birth, but this is not always the case. Some have had success with acupuncture, massage, or working with a dietician to hit the disease from every angle.

The moral of the story is: DON’T GIVE UP! You’re not alone, there is help out there. The more people talk about endometriosis the less “imaginary” and “invisible” it will be. Here are some additional resources to check out for more information about endometriosis and treatment options:

The Endometriosis Foundation of America:    http://www.endofound.org/endometriosis

U.S. endo March (kind of like the Susan G Komen breast cancer walk) Happening March 19, 2016 in San Francisco!  http://www.endomarch.org/

The endometriosis association: http://www.endometriosisassn.org/endo.html

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