Thanks to outspoken celebrities including Lena Dunham, Padma Lakshmi, Whoopie Goldberg, and Julianne Hough (just to name a few), endometriosis is no longer the unheard of, or even taboo, topic it once was. While many women are still hesitant to discuss personal and intimate female issues and diseases, women’s health topics are becoming increasingly more prevalent in the news and in every day discussions.
As a disease that affects nearly 10% of the female population (and all who love them), here’s what all women should know about endometriosis, courtesy of Dr. Kathy Huang, Director of the Endometriosis Program at NYU Langone Health.
What is it?
“Endometriosis is when the endometrial cells reside outside of the uterus,” Dr. Huang explains. When these cells or tissue collect outside of the uterus instead of being expelled and shed during a menstrual cycle, they can also collect into other areas and/or surrounding organs. This causes a condition that can become extremely painful and problematic, yet it’s still a bit of a mystery exactly how and why it happens. “We do not know how it occurs. The most common theory is Sampson’s Theory of Retrograde Menstruation,” Dr. Huang continues.
Although it is surprisingly common, endometriosis is considered to be an underdiagnosed disease. “The current statistics say up to 10% of women suffer from the condition," says Dr. Huang. "I suspect that’s an understatement.”
When should you see a doctor?
If you suspect you have symptoms of endometriosis including, “pelvic pain, painful periods, or painful intercourse,” you should see your doctor. Additionally: “If endometriosis lesions are in the bladder and bowel, then patients will present with painful urination/bowel movements. Patients should discuss any painful symptoms in the pelvic area with her gynecologist,” stresses Dr. Huang.
What are the treatment options?
Thankfully, for anyone who has or suspects she has endometriosis, there are both medical and surgical options for treatment. “Medical treatment consists mainly of hormonal treatment: birth control pills and IUD,” and as for surgical treatment, “excision of endometriosis lesions is far superior to ablation of those lesions,” explains Dr. Huang.
When seeking medical guidance or treatment, it can be difficult to find the right practitioner. Dr. Huang highlights the importance of finding an experienced physician. “It is a complicated condition that often requires a multidisciplinary team," she says. "Surgery is not always the answer, nor the only answer.” NYU Langone, for example, has a “team of medical professionals that help us help our patients," continues Dr. Huang. "We have radiologists who help us diagnose the condition, fertility specialists, pelvic floor physical therapists, acupuncturists, and nutritionists along with a team of surgeons that are specialized in treating endometriosis.”
It’s extremely important to remember that while endometriosis is a difficult condition, “no woman should be in pain. Pain during period is not normal, and if she is experiencing pelvic pain then she should seek medical assistance,” Dr. Huang recommends.
The unfortunate truth is, “often times, girls are told growing up that pain with period is normal, and it is not.”