For two decades, a woman who regularly experienced excruciating pain during her period finally had enough and consulted a gynecologist. Her tormentor turned out to be endometriosis.
“A growth was found in my ovaries,” said Ella Marie Evangelista-Martelino, an endometriosis patient care advocate and chief executive officer of Manila Media. “My search led me to an infertility specialist who said that I had endometriosis. She said there’s no cure and I have it for life, so we’ve been managing it for the past 20 years.”
Aside from being women’s month, March is also endometriosis awareness month. Affecting roughly 1 in 10 women, the painful disorder is caused by endometrial tissue growing outside the uterus.
“What I’d like many women to remember is that pain during menstruation is different. It is not normal; we should not normalize the symptoms,” said Dr. Angela S. Aguilar, gynecologist and past president of the Philippine Society for Reproductive Medicine.
“We can have some discomfort, but pain — especially debilitating pain that makes you stop work or prevent you from attending class — is already a very serious symptom. These women should be evaluated by a physician to know whether there are lesions that are possibly endometriosis,” she explained at a recent webinar on the condition.
Dysmenorrhea, the more commonly known term for period pain, shouldn’t be accepted as the norm: extreme pain that interferes with day-to-day warrants a trip to a gynecologist.
Women who have this condition are subject to pelvic examination and ultrasound, though confirmatory tests may be necessary, Dr. Aguilar said.
A study she co-authored titled “Clinical Diagnosis and Early Medical Management for Endometriosis: Consensus for Asia” found that surgical tissue diagnosis shouldn’t be done as it could harm the reproductive system of women who have yet to bear children.
“You can diagnose via non-surgical means, so we try to discourage surgery for endometriosis nowadays,” she said.
According to Ms. Evangelista-Martelino, the most important lesson she learned from her ordeal was that women should visit a gynecologist as soon as they get their period to evaluate their reproductive health.
“I suffered more than a decade and by the time I was diagnosed there was already that growth. If it had been detected and addressed earlier, I wouldn’t have had to go through surgery,” she said.
After undergoing surgery, Ms. Evangelista-Martelino had two children, showing it’s still possible for endometriosis patients to conceive.
Dr. Aguilar added that the usual treatment is to suppress women’s periods with suitable, long-term medication: “Some women have side effects of rare or continuous light bleeding or spotting. Some have problems sleeping or feel mildly depressed. Some have a breakout in their skin. These are few and far between, so you have to explore.”
Cost-effective care isn’t one-and-done surgery, but managing the condition for the rest of the patient’s life. Early diagnosis also means it will be less costly to treat, she said.
Pharmaceutical company Bayer Philippines, which hosted the endometriosis webinar on March 22, announced that its reproductive health chatbot AskMara is now capable of answering questions about period pain.
“The Facebook page has more information now, not only about contraception, but also endometriosis,” said Arlene Celestial, head of marketing for Bayer Pharmaceuticals.
To chat with Ask Mara, visit facebook.com/AskMaraPH/. — Brontë H. Lacsamana