The complex nature of endometriosis has led to the damaging creation of many myths and misconceptions about a disease that affects approximately 10% of women around the world.
Myth #1: Endometriosis takes years to diagnose
Endometriosis is a disease surrounded by delayed diagnosis, myths, hit-and-miss treatments, and a lack of awareness, on top of a wide variety of symptoms that embody a stubborn, frustrating, and, for many, painfully chronic condition.
Endometriosis affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide during their reproductive years due to no fault of their own.
These ladies’ physical, mental, and social well-being can be impacted by this disease. This can affect their ability to maintain their career, complete their education, maintain healthy relationships, participate in social activities, and in some cases, start their family. About 50% of women who have endometriosis will also suffer from pain associated with sexual intercourse.
Access to timely diagnosis and treatment shouldn’t be impacted by the myths and misconceptions that, unfortunately, remain prevalent today.
Myth #2: Severe period pain is normal
“Women’s problems,” as it was once referred, perplexed doctors in the 1800s who dismissed these problems as an indication of women’s delicate and unstable psychological composition.
Attitudes towards women have vastly improved over the last two hundred years, however, some of the old dogmas still linger unconsciously and this impacts the attitudes towards female-specific conditions, like period pain.
As a result, many patients who are eventually diagnosed with endometriosis are told that their (often severe) period pain is “a normal part of being a woman.” Even worse, others are dismissed and told that “they have a low pain threshold,” or “it’s in their head.”
If your pelvic pain interferes with your daily life or prevents you from participating in day-to-day activities, like going to school or work, it is not normal.
If you’re experiencing pain that interferes with your day-to-day life, please give our office a call at (530) 345-0064, extension 281, to set up an appointment and get the care you deserve.
Myth #3: You’re too young to have endometriosis
There are still too many doctors that believe endometriosis is rare in young women.
Negative attitudes towards women and gender discrimination still exist today because of deeply ingrained cultural stereotypes from the past. This discrimination also affects the medical progress and understanding of female-specific conditions. Prior to the introduction of laparoscopy just forty years ago, endometriosis was only diagnosed during a laparotomy, which is a major surgery involving a four to six-inch incision into the patient’s abdomen. The downsides of a laparotomy meant it was usually done only as a last resort in women with the most severe symptoms who were past childbearing age. Since only women in their 30s or 40s were operated on, the disease was only found in women of that age. Subsequently, the idea arose that endometriosis was a disease that primarily affected women in their 30s and 40s.
With the introduction of laparoscopy in the 1970s, gynecologists began to investigate women with infertility problems and began diagnosing the disease in women in their late 20s and early 30s. This altered the average age range for endometriosis but it seems that not a lot of medical professionals considered that they might be ‘finding’ it more because they were ‘looking’ for it more.
The understanding that endometriosis could be found in teenagers and young women was a result of research by the endometriosis awareness groups in the mid-1980s, which grasped the attention of some eminent gynecologists in the 1990s. For example, Dr. Marc Laufer studied teenagers with chronic pelvic pain at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. One of his studies showed that adolescents whose chronic pelvic pain was not alleviated by a combination of contraceptives and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug had a high prevalence of endometriosis, as high as 70%. These results were published by the Department of Surgery, Children’s Hospital, Boston in a study entitled, “Endometriosis in Adolescents.”
Most recently the Global Study of Women’s Health, “Impact of Endometriosis on Quality of Life and Work Productivity,” found that two-thirds of women sought help for their symptoms before the age of 30, with many experiencing symptoms from their first menstruation.
Young women are not too young to have endometriosis – in fact, the majority of women experience symptoms during adolescence, but unfortunately don’t get diagnosis or treatment until they are in their 20s or 30s.
Myth #4: Hormonal treatments cure endometriosis
Hormonal treatments come in multiple forms and have been used by gynecologists for years to treat endometriosis.
However, it’s important for patients to understand that these hormonal treatments only temporarily suppress the symptoms, but symptoms typically return once the drugs aren’t being taken.
This means that hormonal treatments do not eradicate endometriosis. If a patient is looking for a permanent solution, surgery performed by an endometriosis specialist is their best option.
Myth #5: Pregnancy cures endometriosis
Fortunately, the myth that pregnancy cures endometriosis has become less prevalent in recent years.
However, it is not disappearing fast enough! The reality is that pregnancy can temporarily suppress the symptoms of endometriosis, similar to hormonal treatments, but pregnancy does not eradicate the disease itself. Therefore, symptoms usually recur shortly after childbirth. Some women report a delay in the return of symptoms while breastfeeding, but only if their breastfeeding is also suppressing their menstrual cycle.
Myth #6: Endometriosis = Infertility
Too many women are given the impression that being diagnosed with endometriosis means that they will not be able to have children. However, most women who are diagnosed with endometriosis have children or have children after they are diagnosed.
Unfortunately, there is not enough research to concretely determine what percentage of women have fertility problems due to their endometriosis. Early detection and treatment of the disease also helps mitigate infertility in association with endometriosis. It is theorized that the likelihood of fertility problems increases with the severity of the disease and as the patient ages.
It is generally believed that 50–70% of women with endometriosis are fertile. Furthermore, about half the women who have difficulties with getting pregnant do eventually conceive with or without treatment.
Myth #7: Infertility is caused by endometriosis on the tubes
The idea that endometriosis creates scarring on the fallopian tubes and causes infertility is appearing more frequently in lay publications. These authors could be confusing the causes of endometriosis-associated infertility with pelvic-inflammatory-disease-associated infertility.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection that obstructs or damages the fallopian tubes. It causes infertility by obstructing the movement of the egg and sperm through the fallopian tube. According to an article titled, “Endometriosis and Infertility,” by the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences from Yale School of Medicine, this contrasts with tubal endometriosis which is less common and does not always cause infertility.
The mechanisms by which endometriosis causes infertility are still largely unknown, and it may be years before the correlation of endometriosis and infertility are fully understood.
Myth #8: Hysterectomies cure endometriosis
Removing the uterus and/or the ovaries prevents new endometrial growths, however, without removing the endometriotic growths outside of the uterus a hysterectomy will not get rid of the symptoms of endometriosis.
There are many websites falsely suggesting a hysterectomy is a cure for endometriosis but it cannot be considered a cure. Most of my patients who elect to have a hysterectomy because of their endometriosis, cannot find relief from symptoms through any other method.
Myth #9: Endometriosis is emotional – not physiological
Endometriosis is a disease that is very real and highly complex, it’s a truly multi-factorial and physiological disease. “Emotional complications” cannot cause endometriosis.
Women with endometriosis may struggle with the emotional distress brought on by the unrelenting symptoms of pain and potentially infertility, but such emotions are a result of the impact of the disease – emotions don’t cause the disease.
Myth #10: External factors like abortion and douching can cause endometriosis
Endometritis is inflammation of the endometrium, which is the inner lining of the uterus. Endometritis is caused by an infection in the uterus and is the most common cause of infection after childbirth. It can be due to chlamydia, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, or a mix of normal vaginal bacteria. It is more likely to occur after miscarriage or childbirth, particularly common after a long labor or C-section. Symptoms of endometritis may include lower abdominal pain, fever, and abnormal vaginal discharge/bleeding.
Endometriosis cannot be prevented with modern medicine, however, the symptoms can be treated and mitigated by hormonal therapy and/or surgery. Recommended treatment approaches vary depending on how severe each individual case is. Depending on the patient, the most effective treatment can be performing a complete hysterectomy and/or laparoscopic excision. It’s important to realize that while mild period cramps are normal, severe period pain is abnormal.
If you, or a family member, are experiencing severe period pain, please call our office at 530-345-0064, extension 281 to make an appointment. If we catch Endometriosis early, we can contain it and prevent it from rapidly spreading. This is why it is essential to break down the myths and misconceptions about endometriosis so that young patients can receive the resources they deserve. As healthcare professionals, it’s our responsibility to take our patients, and their pain, seriously.