Think for a moment of 10 women you know. Your cousin, aunt, professor, sister in law, girlfriend, neighbour, colleague, daughter. One of them has a silent disease that has no known cure. This condition often begins at the onset of menstruation and continues for decades. Its main symptom is excruciating pain. Pain that leaves you doubled over on the cold bathroom floor with alternating hot flashes and chills. Pain that makes you throw up because your body is in complete chaos. Relentless physical pain that in some extreme cases, makes the sufferer want to just end it all.
This condition results in missed school, missed work days, skipped lectures, lost jobs and even infertility. Endometriosis racks up billions of shillings each year in lost productivity and medical care costs. TEDx speaker Shannon Cohn stated,”If all the estimated 180 million women with endo formed their own country, it would be the 8th largest nation, bigger than Russia.”
Yet, many of these girls and women don’t even know that they have endometriosis. Why is there so little awareness of this condition? Because endo is a female condition that is triggered by menstruation. This is the 21st century yet unfortunately even in Western lands, periods are considered taboo. People are uncomfortable discussing women’s cycles and medical research is focused on other, more lucrative priorities. Therefore ignorance about endo abounds. Many endo warriors have taken on average 10 years and several specialists in order to get a diagnosis.
Even doctors can’t tell when they have endo themselves! One GP named Alex struggled for 20 years before laparoscopic surgery finally revealed that she had type 4 endo. By this stage, her ovaries had been destroyed, her fallopian tubes were shot and her pelvic organs had all fused together. Why is it so hard to diagnose? Endometriosis does not show up on scans, x-rays or in bloodwork. Plus the symptoms are often highly individual and traverse a number of medical specialities. These symptoms include:
-PMS (Severe mood swings caused by hormonal fluctuations.) These can affect brain function and productivity, mental fog, depression and rage.
-Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Severe food allergies, diarrhea, constipation and endo belly (your tummy swells suddenly to several times its normal size)
–Pain during urination, Pain during life, and deep internal pain during sex.
-Vomiting and severe cramping (dysmenorrhea)
What causes endometriosis?
As you know, in all women, every month the womb prepares to host a fertilized egg. To create a comfortable home for this guest, the uterine lining thickens up. Known as the endometrium, this lining can be likened to a soft pink cushioned duvet with pillows and cushions. In a normal female, this lining sheds each month pretty seamlessly.
However, when someone has endometriosis, the lining forms not just inside the womb, but it grows on the outside as well. Depending on the severity, this lining grows on top of the uterus, on the Fallopian tubes and ovaries, on the pelvis, bladder, rectum, intestines and even as far as lung tissues. Each of these lesions thinks it is a miniature womb so it responds to the hormonal signals to regularly thicken, spasm (or cramp) and shed. In stage 3 and 4 endometriosis the lining may be so prevalent inside the body that it forms a complex torturous web, fusing and wrapping unrelated organs together.
Relief for endo warriors
For girls and women living with this condition the medical options are few. Surgery is can does provide some relief, although without lifestyle changes the operations may have to be repeated after some months or years. Women who incorporate dietary changes (such as veganism) and other wellness interventions do report some relief especially when they detoxify and strengthen the liver, which is responsible for producing and regulating hormones. Some also use anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and hormone balancing herbs such as Motherwort, Dong Quai, Jamaican Dogwood, Cramp Bark, Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Chaste Tree berry and others.
Some holistic doctors recommend castor oil packs to boost liver function. Exercise and movement helps a great deal, as does boosting circulation, clean eating and pain management drugs. CBD oil is hugely popular in endometriosis support forums as a natural alternative for pain management. Other alternative treatment options available in Kenya for endometriosis include acupuncture, cupping, reflexology and homeopathy. Endometriosis has no cure, but a number of endo warriors report that it can be endured and successfully managed with the needed interventions and lots of support.
Cuddles and Compassion
How can you support the endo warrior in your life? Learn as much as you can about her condition. Listen to her and reassure her that you believe her. Some endo women have been made to feel like they are overreacting, or the pain is ‘all in their heads,’ or they are ‘softies.’ Let her know that you are on her side. If your friend with endo cancels plans at the last minute, overlook it. If your colleague has endometriosis understand that she is doing her best to be a team player but sometimes her body rebels. Step in for her when she is down, and she will deliver when her pain abates.
If you’re dating a girl with endo, understand that she’s gone through more pain than most people can ever imagine. Be patient and compassionate. If your daughter or your wife has endo, empathy goes a long way. Soft words, practical assistance with chores, hugs, and gifts always help. The most important thing is to be there for the women in our lives – validate her and believe her when she speaks of pain that you cannot imagine. In honor of endometriosis awareness, take a minute to think of the women and girls in your life who may have this or a similar condition. A phone call, a text, or a ‘thinking of you’ message can go a long way.
Contributor: Tricia Wanjala is a writer, a mother, a wife and a health-nut. She runs Africa’s largest natural hair, wellness, and beauty community over @triciasnaturals.