Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue that usually grows inside the uterus spreads to areas outside the uterus. It is characterised by severe pain in the pelvic area, which often coincides with menstrual periods.
This common disease, which is estimated to affect about 176 million women worldwide, is typically accompanied by a number of myths and misconceptions. We separate the myths from the facts so you know more about this condition:
Myth 1: If I’m diagnosed with endometriosis, it means that I’m infertile.
The truth is that endometriosis does not equal infertility. “In some instances, people with endometriosis do conceive and have a normal, healthy baby,” says Dr Abri de Bruin, a gynaecologist and reproductive medicine specialist. “We also know that not all women who have babies have been tested for endometriosis and we do not know how many healthy women who have babies actually have underlying endometriosis.” However, the more severe the endometriosis is, the greater the impact is likely to be on conceiving successfully.
Myth 2: Endometriosis only affects women from their 30s onwards.
“Younger women can – and most certainly do – suffer from severe endometriosis. I have patients who are still in their teens with severe disease affecting their bowels and ovaries,” says Dr de Bruin.
The endometriosis-age myth is related to the fact that the initial diagnosis of endometriosis (prior to the 1970s) was only possible by laparotomy, a major surgical procedure involving deep incisions to the abdomen. This procedure was only considered in women past childbearing age, leading to the misconception that only older women suffered from endometriosis.
However, in 1994, Drs David Barlow, Stephen Kennedy and Helen Mardon of Oxford University, England conducted a study of women diagnosed with endometriosis in the United States and United Kingdom. They found that the average age when pain symptoms began was 22, with this age ranging from 10 to 46 years old.
Myth 3: A hysterectomy will cure endometriosis.
By definition, endometriosis is a disease that occurs outside the uterus. “We do not know what causes endometriosis – we only know that the uterus has a role to play in the disease. Removing only the uterus – and not the endometriotic growths outside the uterus – will not eradicate the disease and the disease will therefore continue growing,” says Dr de Bruin.
If a hysterectomy is planned in a patient with endometriosis, the disease (that is, all endometriotic growths) should be removed at the time of the hysterectomy.
Myth 4: Pregnancy can cure endometriosis.
Although pregnancy (and the absence of menstrual periods) may temporarily mask the symptoms of endometriosis, endometriosis can return once the baby has been delivered. However, the return of symptoms may be delayed by extended breastfeeding, if this delays the return of menstrual periods.
Myth 5: Endometrial pain is a fact of life – I just have to deal with it.
Although endometriosis can’t be cured, there are many options available to patients for managing the disease. “Appropriate treatment depends on various factors, including age, symptoms and fertility status and fertility wishes,” says Dr de Bruin. “These options can include medical treatment, injections, fertility treatment, surgery for the disease, hysterectomy and others. The important thing to remember is that you do not have to suffer in silence. Speak to your doctor about a solution that meets your needs.”
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