So many women across the world are misdiagnosed everyday with cervical cancer when in reality they are living with a painful condition called endometriosis.
The symptoms for both conditions are strikingly similar: Pelvic pain, pain during intercourse, menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than normal and abnormal vaginal discharge.
Today marks the beginning of Endometriosis Awareness Month which is a disorder that affects 1 in 10 women. Endometriosis is a long-term and often painful disease where tissue similar to the lining of your uterus grows in other places like your fallopian tubes — if missed, endometriosis can lead to infertility.
It takes on average 8 years to get a diagnosis of endometriosis, during which time, people may be misdiagnosed with various conditions first and 58% of endometriosis patients have to visit their GP 10 or more times before getting a diagnosis.
The impact misdiagnosis and lengthy diagnosis can have on a person’s mental health as well as their physical health can be huge. In a parliamentary report published by APPG on Endometriosis it was found that “95% of people said that endometriosis/the symptoms of endometriosis had impacted their wellbeing very negatively”. Also, “90% would have liked access to psychological support but were not offered this.”
A recent story in the news showed a young female whose crippling pain had been continuously dismissed by doctors and just put down to “the pains of being a woman” when in reality she was battling undiagnosed endometriosis. She struggled badly with heavy periods, abdominal pain and severe pain during sex that would leave her feeling paralysed. All these symptoms could be symptoms for cervical cancer or endometriosis and the fact that she was turned away by medical professionals and just told it’s the price you have to pay for being a woman is absolutely devastating.
Around 42% of women and girls are reported to miss school due to endometriosis symptoms, with 12% missing important exams very often, showing just how much of your life can be impacted by this condition.
From stories that you read in the news and women that you’d speak to in your everyday life, it is abundantly clear that not enough care, attention and time goes on these poor women who are struggling with any of these symptoms — let alone the effort to properly diagnose them. Some young women are even belittled by medical professionals to the point where they are accused of lying about the pain and insinuating that it’s all in their head. More often than not, the abdominal pains are passed off as being irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and doctors try to treat it with laxatives.
Singer/Songwriter Halsey suffered three traumatic miscarriages and four surgeries due to her endometriosis. She described feeling like “a prisoner in her own body” and is hellbent on using her platform to raise more awareness for this painful condition. Halsey opted to freeze her eggs at the age of 23 because she was so keen to become a mother. On the 27th of January this year, Halsey announced her pregnancy — wearing a rainbow t-shirt and using rainbow emojis in the Instagram caption to symbolise this being her rainbow baby, a term commonly used for a child that is born to a family who have already suffered the loss of a child due to miscarriage or stillbirth.
Actress Lena Dunham, who also suffers with endometriosis had a full hysterectomy to remove her uterus and cervix due to the debilitating pain she was living with. Over the years, Lena has been very open about the condition, not shying away from any topics — she discloses on shoots when she is unable to wear tight-fitted clothing due to her bloating and even openly discusses what sex positions work for her and are the least painful with her endometriosis.
So, what exactly can be done about all of this? Though there is no cure for endometriosis itself — there are things we can all do to firstly raise awareness for it — specifically highlighting the common misdiagnosis that women experience and to provide support and care for those women living with it. Charities such as Endometriosis UK make it their mission to support those affected by endometriosis and work towards a future where their lives are impacted as little as possible by this condition.
It shouldn’t be brushed under the rug. Women living in pain and waiting years to be diagnosed when the sooner it is found the sooner it can be managed. It is of detrimental importance that all healthcare practitioners not only recognise the symptoms of endometriosis but also support those through diagnosis and treatment.
For support, please call the Endometriosis UK helpline: 0808 808 2227