The New York State Department of Health recognizes March as Endometriosis Awareness Month, which is observed each year to raise awareness about a condition that can cause severe pain and infertility that too often goes undiagnosed. Endometriosis is a chronic disease that can affect anyone who has a menstrual cycle. It’s associated with severe, life-impacting pain that affects roughly 11 percent of women and those with a uterus between 15 and 44 years of age.
“Endometriosis is a serious and significant problem. Pain is a common symptom and can be excruciating. Too often when people bring up concerns about menstrual-type pain they are dismissed and their problem is not taken seriously,” Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. “There needs to be continued awareness to empower people to advocate for themselves if they suspect they have endometriosis, and clinicians must be open and engaged to make sure that endometriosis is considered.”
Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the inside of the uterus, known as the endometrium, grows outside of the uterus where it doesn’t belong. These growths are not cancerous but can cause lifelong debilitating problems, leading to a decrease in quality of life.
Pain is the most common symptom for individuals living with endometriosis. This includes pain during menstrual cycles, during or after sexual intercourse, during bowel movements, and when urinating. In some cases, growths that develop outside of the uterus can form scar tissue and adhesions. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health says in extreme cases, these growths can bind organs together, sometimes resulting in the need for surgery. Other symptoms include heavy bleeding during menstrual periods, bleeding between periods, infertility, depression, and anxiety.
Because symptoms vary, the disease is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether. Black and Hispanic individuals also continue to be diagnosed at far lower rates than their White counterparts, as a result of systemic inequities in care.
Diagnosis often involves a pelvic exam, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, the only way to know for sure if an individual has endometriosis is through laparoscopic surgery. There is currently no way to prevent endometriosis, and there is no known cure for the condition. Treatment for the condition can be invasive and is usually aimed at simply controlling or managing the symptoms.
Increased knowledge, early diagnosis, and care of the condition are recommended by the World Health Organization in order to slow or halt the natural progression of the disease.
If an individual believes they have endometriosis, it’s important they get checked by their primary care or OB-GYN provider. Keeping a log of symptoms and when they occur can also be a helpful tool when having a discussion with a provider about endometriosis.