“I didn’t know how much pain I was in, until the pain wasn’t there anymore. I had gotten so accustomed to the pain, that I started to believe it was a part of my life.”
That was part of a message Angela sent to me, some time last year. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis. It was an aggressive form of endometriosis, a stage IV endometriosis at that; the endo cells had invaded all her other organs and she always ended up in pain, whenever it was that time of the month, which could have been anytime, as her flow was heavy and irregular.
What was even more worrying were the pockets of menstrual blood from the shedding of endometrial cells in other parts of her body, which had no passage out of her body.
Her doctors discovered quite a few of those, and everyone wondered how long the blood had been pooling in those places and, importantly, how she had survived all these years.
Angela’s diagnosis opened her eyes, and also my own, to the fact that, apart from the fact that endometriosis is a pain beast, endometrial cells can grow in other parts of the body, like the lung, the stomach, the ovaries and so on; thereby causing unimaginable pains.
Given its versatility, it is possible to be treating a lung infection, when actually the issue is thoracic endometriosis, but thank God there are treatment plans, which can offer some relief from the symptoms.
But as they say, you can only do something about what you know, so below are 7 things women should know about endometriosis, and how much it affects them, especially as we are in the week meant to create awareness about the condition.
- Endometriosis doesn’t have a cure
The issue here is with the word “cure.” Many medications and hormonal treatment plans can treat endometriosis, which is a more possible route.
In some cases, the disease subsides or goes into a remission-type state, but the treatment will never be able to get rid of the endometrial cells.
So, this means that once the treatment is stopped, for whatever reasons, there is a high possibility of the symptoms returning.
- Endometriosis is not easily diagnosed
Just like PCOS, a diagnosis of endometriosis is not easily arrived at. It may take a few doctors to confirm the condition.
This mindset is also possibly the biggest myth about endometriosis. Sadly, for many women, it takes several years and doctors to get an accurate diagnosis.
Ultrasounds, CT scans and MRIs do not tend to show endometriosis, and a physical exam might be of no help, unless there are larger nodules in certain areas. The only definite way to get an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis is through surgery, backed up by pathology.
- True diagnosis comes from surgery
Like pointed out above, surgery is one sure way to diagnose the condition. But before you get to that stage, your doctor may make an initial diagnosis by understanding the frequency and severity of symptoms.
However, that diagnosis can only be confirmed from a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy, which uses a thin, lighted tube (laparoscope) placed through a small incision in the belly button to examine the pelvic area.
During this procedure, a sample of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope, and a definite diagnosis is made from the results of that test.
- It can affect fertility
There are stages of endometriosis, and the higher the stage, the higher it goes from superficial to deeply invasive. All of these stages, however, may impair fertility in one or more ways.
For getting pregnant, in most cases of more severe and extensive endometriosis, many doctors will advocate for in vitro fertilization to help get the eggs, sperm and embryos out of the pelvic environment, which has been shown to be toxic to these cells.
The experts noted that chances of getting pregnant depend mainly upon the severity of the disease, determined by its amount, location, and depth, and ranked from mild (Stage 1), which has a better chance of success, to severe (Stage 4), which has a low chance of success.
- Endometriosis can cause pain every day of the month
Women with endometriosis may have pain every day, regardless of the time of the month or where they are in their cycle, because scarring and inflammation caused by the condition can result in constant pain.
Some women find the pain debilitating and need to take pain medication prescribed by their doctors.
- Whether Stage I or Stage IV, endometriosis causes pain
It bears repeating that, regardless of the stage of the endometriosis, it causes pain.
However, women with extensive endometriosis may not experience any symptoms while those with only small amounts of endometriosis may have constant, debilitating pain.
Where the endometriosis is located has more of a bearing on pain levels than anything else.
- Endometriosis can affect any part of the body
Although it’s true that endometriosis may primarily be found in the pelvic region, it has also been found as far away as the eye and brain.
In the case of Angela mentioned earlier, endometrial cells were found on her ovaries, stomach, lungs and other parts of her internal organs.
While it is rare to have the cells in other parts of the body, it is not impossible.
Endometriosis is a pain beast, like I usually refer to it, and the fact that it can infiltrate other parts of the body makes it even more dangerous.
The more we know about the condition that’s a major cause of infertility, the better for us all, and the better equipped we are to advocate for better deals for its sufferers. But more importantly, one can hope that scientists will be propelled to find a permanent cure for the condition.
Stay strong mamas, and I’m sending loads of baby dust your way.
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