March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. At LILAS Wellness, we always make sure to emphasize multifaceted elements of womxn's health. Given that endometriosis is estimated to impact 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, which is roughly 176 million across the globe, endometriosis more than warrants our attention. An Austian pathologist named Karl von Rokitansky first observed endometriosis microscopically in 1860. However, the condition was first indicated in medical documents 4,000 years ago. In fact, endometriosis symptoms were even incorporated into the famous Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of 60 medical treatises throughout Ancient Greece heavily associated with the teachings of Hippocrates, who is often deemed the father of medicine. (This is where the Hippocratic Oath that doctors make comes from.) Despite how pervasive the disorder is and has been across time, endometriosis is still very underdiagnosed and misunderstood.
What is endometriosis?
Essentially, endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus, also known as the endometrium, grows outside of the uterus and forms lesions on various parts of your pelvic area. Like the endometrium, these lesions thicken, break down, and shed with each menstrual cycle. However, because there is often no way for the shedded lesions and blood to escape, there may be buildup that becomes trapped, resulting in notably painful periods. Symptoms of endometriosis include varying degrees of pain during periods, with intercourse, with bowel movements or urination. Endometriosis is also correlated with excessive bleeding, infertility, fatigue, diarrhea, bloating, etc.
The causes of endometriosis are still not clear. However, experts have developed some critical theories as to why endometriosis has emerged. While there are multiple theories, the three main ones include retrograde menstruation, transformation of peritoneal cells, and immune system disorder. In retrograde menstruation, blood containing endometrial cells flows back into the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of out of the body, resulting in buildup and lesion formation. Within the transformation of peritoneal cells conjecture, which is also known as the induction theory, experts propose that hormones or immune factors promote the process of peritoneal cells, the cells that line the inside of your abdomen, turning into endometrial-like cells, progressing into lesion formation. And finally, with immune system disorder theory, some scientists assert endometriosis occurs when endometrial-like tissue forms outside of the uterus and remains because the body is unable to recognize and subsequently destroy it. All three of these theories, and many of the other ones, are closely connected. Endometrial cells are either heading in the wrong direction during menstruation or they are emerging and growing from the wrong places. Just as importantly, none of these theories associate endometriosis as being a consequence of any given behavior. In other words, having endometriosis is never anyone’s fault. Hopefully, further research on the cause of endometriosis will help streamline the diagnosis and treatment of it as well.
Continuing endometriosis dialogue
Throughout the month of March, we'll explore different aspects of endometriosis. In particular, we’ll be intentional in highlighting diverse perspectives of some of our community members on endometriosis treatment, diagnosis delays, and activism. Please stay tuned for some very pertinent and helpful endometriosis content on the LILAS Wellness blog, Instagram, YouTube, and beyond.