Endometriosis. It’s a big word for a relatively invisible disease that dramatically impacts the lives of 1 in 10 women.
Scientifically and clinically speaking, endometriosis is a disease where the tissue that lines the uterus implants elsewhere in the body. This endometrial tissue grows as hormones shift, cycle after cycle. Since this tissue is outside the uterus where it doesn’t belong, it causes inflammation, pain, and a host of other symptoms.
Too often, healthcare providers don’t address the root cause of painful periods, infertility, and other symptoms caused by endometriosis. Instead, hormonal contraception is quickly prescribed, which really does nothing but rather mask symptoms while the disease remains.
A more successful and beneficial treatment protocol looks at each woman as an individual, and carefully gets to the root cause of painful periods. A whole-person approach to treating endometriosis promotes improved health and true healing.
A Misunderstood Disease
Endometriosis is not just bad period pain. It can cause symptoms in addition to severe cramps like bloating, excessive or abnormal bleeding, fatigue, pain with intercourse or bowel movements, and infertility. Despite the fact that it affects an estimated 10% of women, it’s exact cause isn’t known.
Hormonal birth control is often the first line treatment when a woman complains of painful periods. For this reason, it can take an upwards of 6 to 10 years for a woman to get an official diagnosis of endometriosis. Years.
Another startling statistic is that 1 in 3 women say they went to at least 3 or 4 doctors before they actually received a diagnosis.
Contraception Doesn’t “Treat” Anything
The reality is that women are suffering for years with a largely invisible disease that often causes women to miss school or work, or visit the ER for pain and nausea. And the most common medical treatment is one that acts to suppress the reproductive system rather than understand why the body is experiencing such violent symptoms.
Hormonal birth control, while the go-to “remedy” for painful periods, doesn’t actually “treat” or eliminate endometriosis. Instead, it suppresses ovulation or puts the body into a state of menopause. This may make symptoms go away for a time, but the disease is still present. The body is not healed — symptoms are merely masked.
In addition, hormonal birth control comes with its own set of ugly side effects. It’s not an approach that sees the woman as an individual. It doesn’t listen to what the body is trying to say — it merely applies a one-size-fits-all approach to a common and often debilitating women’s health issue.
A Whole-Person Approach
A better, more successful option that sees each patient as the individual she is gets to the root cause of painful periods and treats that root cause instead of masking symptoms with the Pill.
In my experience, I suffered debilitating endometriosis for several years. I visited one doctor who insisted I continue taking a ghastly amount of NSAIDS, and another who immediately recommended hormonal birth control. I felt there had to be a better option and finally, on Doctor #3 and after at least three years of searching, found a doctor who took a more multi-faceted approach.
Beginning to chart my cycle gave my doctor (and me!) the knowledge and understanding of my reproductive health needed to move forward with a treatment plan that specifically addressed endometriosis. Charting with the Creighton Model helped to identify certain qualities about my menstrual cycle that indicated the possibility of endometriosis. This led to me starting other therapies like bio-identical progesterone and various supplements to help balance my hormones and reduce fatigue.
This approach, instead of masking my symptoms and sending me on my way, worked to understand what my body was trying to tell us, and responded accordingly.
Healing is a Process
A laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgery, is truly the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis. This, followed by excision surgery, is the gold standard in the treatment of endometriosis. Excision surgery removes the entirety of endometrial lesions, instead of merely burning them off (ablation). When done by a properly trained surgeon, excision has a high rate of success and low rate of recurring endometriosis.
Even after surgery, there is still healing to be done. Endometriosis can be a deeply pervasive disease, depending on it’s stage of progression, so women deserve a multi-faceted approach that gives them the best chance of restoring quality of life, health, and fertility. In my case, a number of different things have helped me to move on from endometriosis physically and mentally after I had excision surgery in 2017, including nutrition and lifestyle changes and physical therapy.
Further, the impact of endometriosis on mental and emotional health is often overlooked, but studies have shown that nearly 90% of women who have endometriosis experience anxiety and or depression. In the years after my surgery, I have found counseling and even EMDR therapy helpful in processing my experience with the disease and it’s aftermath.
The Future of Women’s Healthcare
There is no one pill that can heal or treat endometriosis. Healthcare should listen and respond to what the body is trying to say instead of ignore and mask symptoms with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Every woman suffering from endometriosis deserves a multi-faceted treatment plan that aims to restore health, balance hormones, eradicate disease, and restore fertility.
Sarah Coffey is a copywriter for Catholic businesses & holistic health professionals. She also writes on health, finance, and the Catholic faith for Grotto Network. She lives in St. Louis, Mo. with her husband and their two cats.