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You may be one of the people who have heard all about this mysterious “endometriosis” disease lately. Your aunt has it, your best friend has it, your mom’s coworker has it—but what is it? What’s the big deal? Now is a great time to find out because March is endometriosis awareness month!

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disease found in 2-4% of women worldwide. It occurs when the endometrial cells (the ones that line the uterus) travel out of the uterus and implant on other organs. Usually the endometrial cells will be found in other spots in the pelvis, like ovaries, fallopian tubes, outside the uterus, bladder, and intestines, but in rare cases it can travel to anywhere in the body.

What’s the problem with endometriosis?

Endometriosis has short term and long-term effects. It is not only one of the most painful experiences a woman can go through (look at the symptoms below), but it can also cause chronic fatigue, infertility, and even severely damaged organs if not treated early enough. It can also lead to emotional and relationship problems due to the debilitating effects it has on individuals and their families.

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

The main symptom of endo is recurring pain. Not only are the cramps severe and oftentimes debilitating during PMS, but also the pain doesn’t last just one week. It can last for two weeks or up to the entire month. There isn’t always a noticeable “cycle.” Oftentimes the pain isn’t just in the pelvis either, but all over the torso and even in the legs. Sounds fun right?

There are four stages of endometriosis, ranging from minimal to severe. This doesn’t change the symptoms, though, only the amount and location of lesions. Even a woman with a few specks of endometriosis can have the worst symptoms of endo, while women with severe endo may only feel a little bit.  

Brigid, a senior at Boston College, says some of her symptoms would include nausea and vomiting. Her cramps were “paralyzing,” sometimes not even allowing her to stand up or move.

I too have endometriosis, and found there were at least two weeks out of the month when I was in so much pain that I couldn’t attend school or even get out of bed. The rest of the month I felt constant pain and as though I was just going through the motions. I was rushed to the ER for severe pain every other month for about a year, and Brigid too was sent to the ER and misdiagnosed about a half a dozen times before the final diagnosis.

What causes endometriosis?

No one really knows what causes endometriosis. It’s not stress or food habits or anything like that. A lot of studies are currently going on right now to figure out better ways to determine the cause of endometriosis as well as possible ways to detect and treat endometriosis.  These studies include the Violet Petal Study and even a study right here in the Boston area at Brigham and Women’s!

What are the treatments for endometriosis?

Right now, unfortunately the only way to figure out if you have endo is to get a laparoscopy done. A laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgery that looks at the organs in and around the pelvic region, and it can actually laser off the endometrial cells. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily a permanent fix, and oftentimes the endometriosis comes back.  

There are other treatments available, including the pill, mini-pill or other hormone treatments. These aren’t always 100% effective either, though; as Brigid states, “I’m happy that some of my symptoms are under control, but from day to day I feel some sort of pain.” Endometriosis doesn’t go away easily.

What can you do if you know someone with endo?

The best thing you can do for girls with endo is to just understand. We don’t want sympathy or pity—we are strong women! However, it is nice to have friends who have a simple knowledge of the disease and an understanding that some days will be horrible and some days won’t be too bad. Fatigue, headaches, and pain are common with endometriosis, so sometimes we just have to deal with it and may not want to talk to people or do certain things.

What should you do if you think you may have endometriosis?

Definitely talk to your doctor or gynecologist about your symptoms and pain, and see what they can do for you! They will definitely be able to help! Also check out Buzzfeed’s “15 Things You Shouldn’t Say To A Woman With An Unhappy Uterus”  to learn more!


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