When I heard the story of one of my sister’s friends, who had married early in life, so she could start her family early due to her endometriosis diagnosis, I automatically thought that pregnancy in some ways “cured” endometriosis, or at most, helped to alleviate the symptoms.
Well, it happens that I have fallen into one of the mythical traps I have always been trying to ensure others don’t. And I really thought it works like that, because pregnancy is such a major life experience, which leaves a lot of aftereffects. Pregnancy not only does a number on the woman’s body, her mind and brain feel the effect too.
I’m not alone in assuming pregnancy cured endometriosis. The myth goes back to the mid-1920s, when doctors noted that a high number of married patients with severe endometrial cysts had never been pregnant.
As you can imagine, during that century, it was customary for women to stay home having babies, so this lack of pregnancies in certain women made doctors stand up and take notice. They correctly observed that the disease (endometriosis) was interfering with the fertility of these women. So far so good, however, there was another additional – and wrong – assumption:
In his book, 100 Questions and Answers About Endometriosis, international endometriosis expert and ob-gyn David Redwine said, “the physicians assumed that pregnancy protects against the cysts. This was an absolutely incorrect leap of faith.”
The falsehood has persisted for generations, even among doctors. Which shows just why some doctors advise young ladies with the condition to start having babies early.
Rachel, who has been living with endometriosis since her teenage years, currently has to decide if pregnancy is the right step for her and reached out to find if it actually works as a cure for her condition.
Over four years ago, Rachel had her first laparoscopic surgery, and afterwards she felt better than she had in years. The quality of her life was better too, but all that ended about a year ago, when her symptoms returned with vengeance.
She ran back to her doctor, who again suggested another surgery. Having lived without pain for so long, Rachel agreed and she had another procedure. After she healed from the surgery, there was none of the effect she felt after her first procedure. She was still in pain. The surgery had failed, even though she had an uglier scar to show for it.
Rachel has been living with the pain since that time till now. Her doctor has suggested that she try to get pregnant. According to her doctor, having had two procedures, he felt strongly that pregnancy would help her. He even said she had an 80% chance of being cured, if she had a baby.
His theory is based on the fact that the female uterus gets a chance to renew itself after pregnancy. After stretching way out (and making the pain of endo even worse for those nine months, especially without medication), it has a chance to shrink back to an almost new, non-leaky, less temperamental uterus. Right now, that 80% chance of being “cured” of endometriosis is all she can think about.
Honestly, I wish it really works like that. The reality is that pregnancy, much like hormonal drug treatments, may temporarily suppress the symptoms of endometriosis, but does not eradicate the disease itself.
For clarification, endometriosis is the presence of tissue similar to the lining of the uterus outside the uterus itself.
Before we even go too far, there is a need to determine that the endo hasn’t compromised a woman’s fertility; a common side effect of endometriosis. After pain, infertility is the most common symptom of endometriosis. There is not only one cause for infertility related to endometriosis, but instead a series of factors that contribute to the difficulty in getting pregnant. In advanced stages of the disease, there are cysts or pelvic adhesions that prevent ovulation and the transport of the egg or embryo.
Without treatment, the Endometriosis Institute states that “there is no question that chances for pregnancy in endometriosis are significantly decreased. Women with Stage I or II endometriosis have an approximately 2% chance for conceiving in any given menstrual cycle (cycle fecundity rate). That chance is less than 1% for women with Stage III or IV disease. By comparison, age-dependent cycle fecundity rates in healthy fertile women range between 15 and 25%.”
And if the woman actually gets pregnant, current information reveals that the endo symptoms usually re-occur after the birth of the child. Some women can delay the return of symptoms by breastfeeding, but only while the breastfeeding is frequent enough and intense enough to suppress the menstrual cycle.
According to the Gynae mentioned earlier, Redwine, it is actually the uterine cramps that have subsided, not the endometriosis itself
“The endometriosis itself is still there,” he says. “So when menstruation resumes, the pain is likely to return.” There’s simply no evidence pregnancy shrinks endometrial lesions or changes pain processing in the long run.
So, should Rachel be considering pregnancy as a “cure” for infertility? Not necessarily so. It might not be the magic wand that takes away all pain, the way, it is touted to be.
Pregnancy might help reduce endometriosis symptoms, if only temporarily…but to cure it? That is still a wish.
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