Endometriosis: the invisible illness

No crutches, no cast, no physical scars; endometriosis has no visible appearance. The illness can often haunt a woman’s life without anyone being able to see the pain that she is suffering from. Glimpses of normality, such as being able to walk unassisted, leave endometriosis sufferers on the cusp of both disability and health, unable to fully claim either one. Actually, endometriosis is a debilitating condition that affects 10% of women world-wide: that’s approximately 176 million women. Unfortunately, there isn’t much awareness of its life-limiting impact, as it’s rarely spoken about.

Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial tissue (cells that line the womb) are found elsewhere in the body – often in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, stomach, bladder and bowel. When a woman menstruates these misplaced endometrial cells behave in the same way as they would in the womb by breaking down and bleeding, often causing excruciating pain as the blood has no way of leaving the body.

Common symptoms of endometriosis include: pelvic pain, period pain that prevents involvement in normal activities, heavy periods, pain during or after sex, constipation, blood in the urine, and difficulty getting pregnant. Despite those symptoms this is not an exclusive list, and many of these symptoms are shared by conditions such as fibroids, polyps and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). If your periods are particularly bothersome, or you notice any changes, it is important to consult your GP.

Endometriosis is indiscriminate in women and girls of a childbearing age and can often sometimes cause infertility. This condition could affect any of us girls, so why is there so much stigma attached to it?

With the criticism that met Always’ use of blood, instead of the usual blue liquid, in their sanitary products advert, it is clear that periods are still a taboo topic. Even though menstruation is a natural bodily process that all women experience, many don’t speak about it openly. So menstrual irregularities such as endometriosis are conditions that are misunderstood and met by a lack of awareness. This is why it is so pivotal to speak openly about menstruation and reproductive disorders, to shed light on the suffering that many women experience but often goes unnoticed.

Menstruation varies greatly from woman to woman, and for those that are lucky enough not to suffer from menstrual cramps, it is understandably difficult to comprehend just how excruciating this pain can be. Some people can see an empty office chair at work, or an empty seat in class and view period pains as an excuse not to attend. They don’t see the days spent bed bound, hunched over in pain, unable to move, clutching a hot water battle and crying out in agony that not even the strongest painkillers can move.

It is only through openly discussing our menstruation, and breaking down the stigma surrounding periods, that we can educate about their impact, and bring exposure to invisible menstrual disorders. Everyone experiences periods in their own way, but it is a natural bodily process that all us females share. Talk to each other. Periods don’t have to be taboo. Neither does endometriosis.

Eva Curless

Photo credit: Pixabay