One of many things that can make being a woman challenging is that our pain is rarely taken seriously by health care professionals and peers. Endometriosis, an excruciatingly painful condition that involves tissue growing on the outside of one’s uterus instead of the inside, affects one in 10 women in the U.S., and 176 million women worldwide—and yet, we hardly know anything about it, and we regularly misdiagnose women who complain of severe pain relating to their periods. Many doctors write off potential endometriosis diagnoses as simply “severe menstrual cramps.”
Endometriosis has a variety of symptoms, including painful sex and pain when using the bathroom, as well as painful periods and the potential for fertility problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other symptoms include severe back pain, digestion issues, and bleeding or spotting in between periods. In recent years, several celebrity women have spoken up about their conditions and how the pain they endure has lasting effects on their work. Padma Lakshmi, Lena Dunham, Whoopi Goldberg, Halsey, Susan Sarandon, and Dolly Parton are among the prominent women who have opened up about their experiences in an effort to address the stigma that keeps so many women suffering in silence.
Aside from genetics, endometriosis can sometimes be caused by problems with menstrual flow, immune disorders, certain surgeries like C-sections, and estrogen imbalances. There is no cure for the disorder, but generally women are placed on hormonal birth control as a way to counteract some of the more severe symptoms, like painful menstrual cramps. Some women, like Lena Dunham famously just wrote about, choose to undergo hysterectomies to make the pain stop. Women with endometriosis are still able to get pregnant, though it may be much more challenging with the disorder.
Women with the disorder seem to rally around one shared trend: the exhausting process of trying to have their pain validated by professionals who are supposed to listen. From Lena Dunham to friends of mine who have shared their own stories with me about being ignored and having their pain diminished by their doctors, it seems the emotional and physical pain of endometriosis are one and the same.
Image credit: Artist Zoe Buckman