If you’re suffering from Endometriosis or experiencing symptoms, seek medical advice from your doctor for diagnosis and treatment options.
Lena Dunham, creator and star of the television series Girls, announced in 2015 she was taking a break from promoting the new season for health reasons. Dunham has been suffering from endometriosis, a disease affecting one out of ten women of menstruating age, since her first period.
After her Facebook announcement, several news outlets published some basic facts about the common yet misunderstood illness. While most got it right, CNN made the incorrect claim that hysterectomy is the “only absolute cure” for the condition – a claim that has since been removed from the site.
Yet CNN retained several incorrect statements, including that endometriosis is a condition mostly affecting women in their 30s and 40s.
CNN’s mistakes are unfortunate but not surprising. Endometriosis is typified by a high degree of uncertainty, making even a basic summary difficult. This latest incident is further proof it’s a neglected, gendered and politicised disease that needs to be taken more seriously by academics doctors and others, alike.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is most often defined as a chronic gynaecological condition, where endometrial-type tissue grows outside the uterus.
It can occur in all women of menstruating age. Stating that it affects mainly those in their 30s and 40s is concerning as endometriosis isn’t always suspected or investigated among younger women, and studies consistently show lengthy delays to diagnosis.
If a woman hasn’t fallen pregnant by the end of her menstrual cycle, the tissue lining her uterus sheds (the period). In women with endometriosis, it seems the tissue located outside the uterus also bleeds and swells. Lesions, cysts and nodules can develop, often causing severe cramping, bleeding and pain.
The condition can lead to infertility, although it’s unclear how this occurs.
Although contraceptive pills and, more drastically, removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) can sometimes ease the symptoms, there is currently no cure for endometriosis.
The ‘disease of theories’
According to some, endometriosis is relatively new, first discovered in 1860 by a Bohemian physician named von Rokitansky.
Others think it has affected women for millennia. For instance, the ancient condition of 'hysteria' was the first mental disorder attributed exclusively to women. Hysterical women often exhibited symptoms common to endometriosis. These included nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath and irritability.