- Women's Health
The Agony of Endometriosis: When Menstrual Cramps Become Unbearable
By Gloria Siess
This is a graphic account of a disease that is all too common....
Most women are wonderfully tolerant of their monthly menses. We become used to the pings ,pangs and ritual cramps. For me, the change came after I got married. While In my early twenties my once-normal flow turned into an alarming, burning mass of sheer agony. The feeling is difficult to describe. I felt like a hot towel was wrapped around my internal organs and trying to tear itself out. Taking an advil for such pain was really a joke; several times I felt giddy and lightheaded from the impact of my new monthly visitor. My flow increased , requiring three or four maxi-pads at a time. Dreadful-looking blue-black clots would spill out, as though a jar of Treacle Pudding had exploded inside me. Horrified, I went from gynecologists to gynecologists, desperate for help.
It took nearly five years for my condition to be properly diagnosed. I was told it was "nerves." I was given Codeine tablets for pain, and sent home with the grave advice to "Have a Baby. That will get rid of the cramps."While living in Houston, Texas, a wonderful Lady Doctor finally put her finger on the problem. She told me I had severe endometriosis and that I was probably infertile. Years later, when the pain and disabling flow prevented me from even bending over normally, I was given a complete hysterectomy.
My surgeon said the implants from the disease had caused so many complications, my Uterus was frozen with adhesions. My tubes, My ovaries, parts of my bladdar and colon, had also been affected by the disease. Five strange looking fibroids had grown on the ovaries and top of the uterus. There were clots and inflammation everywhere. I was, in short, a mess. After the surgery I was a "mess" dealing with menopause and HRT.but, blissfully saved from the torrental flow and frightful pain I had endured for so many years. For the first time in ten years I could go to work without fearing a spillage.
What IS Endometriosis? This is a strange disease where the lining of the uterus grows outside of the Uterus. It "implants" itself in the pelvic cavity, even traveling to the colon, bladdar, etc.--every case is slightly different.Instead of staying in the uterus, these pieces of tissue lodge where they do not belong, causing burning pain and internal scarring. The telltale signs are heavy flows, clots, and agonizing cramps. (The miscarriage I had was nothing compared to the pain of this disease). It tends to be misdiagnosed and sometimes ignored. Women are often told the pain is "emotional". Like many women with this disease, my flow would last nearly twelve days, pulling on my insides like an ill-tempered octopus. Most experts believe it is triggered by a hormonal imbalance. In our career-obsessed age, many believe delayed childbirth causes the body to go haywire.
To diagnose the disease, a Doctor will most likely preform a laparoscopy. (I had mine in Southampton, England, where I was living at the time). It is a quick surgical journey through your belly button with a scope that sees and records the landscape of the pelvic area. Once it is properly acknowledged, the patient has several options before getting to the sad condition I found myself in. Not everyone needs a hysterectomy.
Birth Control Pills (to which I was very senstive) help many, as the flow is lessened and the symptoms seem to relax their hold. It is not a cure, and neither is childbirth. (My sister developed endometriosis after having two beautiful children and ended up having the same surgery I did).Alternate hormone therapy is available. Progestin, A progestin intrauterine device (Mirena) danazol, and aromatase inhibitors are some of the options. Lasar surgery can reduce the number of tissue implants and reduce scarring.
The longer you have the symptoms, the harder it may be to become pregnant. Some women with Endometriosis simply can never conceive as the egg cannot implant itself properly.The more severe cases rule out having babies entirely; mild cases do not. My case was very serious as the adhesions (scar tissue) had connected parts of my pelvic area and bowel together.
Ignoring symptoms and becoming overly stoic about severe menstrual pain can backfire--always ask for a laparoscopy if you feel your pain is abnormal. My symptoms were under assessed and too easily dismissed. By the time the true problem was discovered, I found myself infertile and headed for major surgery. Never let a Doctor dismiss your pain lightly; always listen to your gut--literally.
Note: In 1990, the Endometriosis Society found a link between the rayon used in sanitary pads and tampons and the onset of the disease. 79% of monkeys exposed to dioxins from rayon fibers developed endometriosis. It has to do with the way the chemical breaks down during the bleaching processes.