“Drug seekers” and “pill poppers” are some phrases that have been used to describe women seeking medical help from the suffering brought on by a chronic condition often mistakenly chalked up to “period pain.” One study found a new way to diagnose endometriosis without the agony and costs of invasive surgery.
Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition when tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside onto other organs. Over 11% of women between the ages of 15 to 44 may have this disorder, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Patients can experience a variety of symptoms, such as menstrual cramps, pain during sex, digestive problems, spotting, and infertility. The cause is unknown but could be linked to genetic factors or immune system disorders.
“Initially, painful periods, not normal — that’s a stigma that still exists that women are just going to suffer. No, pain is not ever normal, so let’s get rid of that,” 36-year-old April Summerford told NBC New York.
Many times during visits to the doctor, she was told she was normal and powered through the pain. In her experience, one doctor avoided her endometriosis diagnosis simply by remembering the line, “I don’t want it to be endo because I can’t help you.”
Over 1,800 women nationwide participated in this study, including Fresno, Calif. native Summerford, who has been battling infertility and the disease since she first started her menstrual cycle as a teen.
Approximately, 30% to 50% of endometriosis patients may experience infertility, based on the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
“The severity does not correlate with disease symptoms, so you can have very severe disease with very mild symptoms. And then there are some people who do not have symptoms at all, and they learn about their diagnosis in an infertility workup or even in a C-section,” Dr. Christine Metz told NBC New York.
Dr. Metz is one of the lead scientists at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research who worked on this study. She is also the co-director of Research OutSmarts Endometriosis (ROSE), which first launched this project in 2017.
The team studied menstrual effluent as a way to non-invasively diagnose the condition and identified cells in the blood that could differentiate between healthy and sick patients.
“We really pioneered studying menstrual effluent in the setting of any condition. It was not well studied prior to us jumping in, and it was really only studied for regenerative medicine purposes because there are stem cells as the endometrium regrows every single month,” said Dr. Metz.
These findings are one step further toward acquiring tolerable treatments and shortening the delay between symptoms and diagnosis.
“The only treatment that has been developed in the last 12 years is also hormone-based just like all the other treatments developed thus far, and none of them treat the disease. They treat pain,” added Dr. Metz.
March marks Women’s History Month and Endometriosis Awareness Month. The team is recruiting the next phase of participants. To learn more about clinical trials, click here.