We can all think back to when we got our first period. I can remember being shocked that every woman I knew went through this on a monthly basis. I said to myself, “This is a trip and I want a refund!”
Just as I did, you experienced a mixture of uncertainty, fear and some physical discomfort as well. If you had questions, especially If you grew up before Google, the answer was probably, “It’s just a part of being a woman”.
When does “a part of being a woman” or regular menstrual cramps cross the line into a medical condition?
Many women and young girls are suffering with agonizing pain and they believe that it’s the norm. Well, I’m here to say, "It’s not."
I’m thankful that the woman I call “Ma” knew that my pains were abnormal. She accompanied me to countless appointments, and fought to find answers. As a high school junior, my sights were set on prom, running track, and college applications, but in the same year I was diagnosed with endometriosis.
What is Endometriosis?
When you have your period (Aunt Flo, Crimson Tide, Big Red or whatever you like to call it), the lining of the uterus sheds and exits your body. With endometriosis, some of the lining sheds, attaches, and grows in places like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, pelvis and in rare cases the lungs!
How Do You Know If You Have Endometriosis?
What we feel is usually the first indicator that something is going wrong. That is why it’s important for women and young girls to know that all menstrual pain is not a normal part of womanhood. A woman or young lady experiencing the following could be diagnosed with endometriosis:
Excruciating menstrual cramps that only get worse
Severe low back pain and pelvic pain during, before or after your period
Pain during sex
Heavy bleeding and long-lasting cycles
Feeling sick to your stomach with diarrhea and/or vomiting during your period
Severe abdominal pain
Most women are not alarmed by these symptoms because they’ve been conditioned to believe that this is all a normal part of being a woman.
Once you make a visit to your gynecologist with this list of symptoms in hand, a diagnostic ultrasound will be ordered. The ultrasound will show if you have any ovarian cysts present or other changes in the pelvis that can be caused by endometriosis.
An ultrasound alone will not diagnose you with endometriosis. Laparoscopy, a surgical procedure in which the doctor sees endometrial growths or tests tissue samples, is the only way to diagnose endometriosis.
Unfortunately, many women do not discover that they have the disease until they try conceiving a child. Endometriosis may cause infertility, but women with endometriosis do successfully have children.
How Does A Woman Get Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is not a STD or STI so you can’t “catch it”. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Doctors are still not sure what causes it, but they have a few theories.
Some believe (and so do I) that during menstruation, some of the lining of the uterus flows backwards (retrograde) and attaches to areas outside of the uterus.
Having a family member with endometriosis, a pre-existing autoimmune disease or a condition that interferes with menstrual flow can make you more likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis. If you have never had a child, have periods that last for longer than 7 days or are between the ages of 30-40 years old, your chances for endometriosis.
Is There a Cure For Endometriosis?
Like many autoimmune diseases, there is not a cure for endometriosis. Several organizations like the Endometriosis Association, Endometriosis Foundation of America and EndoWarriors are working to raise awareness, fund research and support women with the disease. There is not a way to prevent endometriosis, but there are ways to cope with the symptoms.
Eating a gluten-free diet that is low in caffeine, red meat and alcohol has been known to offer some decrease in severity of symptoms. Keeping your weight and body fat percentage (25-31% is considered acceptable for women) at a healthy level will also aid in managing endometriosis.
Recently, a new drug named Orlissa, was put on the market to help women with endometriosis manage their pain. When symptoms become unbearable, some woman make the decision to have a complete or partial hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus or uterus, Fallopian tubes and ovaries). You and your doctor should create the best plan for your symptoms and lifestyle.
A Hopeful Future
I hope that each woman who reads this will educate another woman or young lady on what endometriosis is. The symptoms listed above are not a beautiful rite of passage into womanhood.
If you are diagnosed with endometriosis, it’s not the end of your world. With the help of God, my husband, parents and a few good doctors, I am a mom who manages endometriosis daily.
Practicing self-care, maintaining physical, mental and spiritual health, and having a support system will get you through the tough times. Remember, you are not alone in this. Together, we got this!