Recently Dr. Drew Pinksy, a board-certified internist, addiction medicine specialist, and radio and television personality, has caused a bit of a firestorm online among women’s health advocates.
During a radio podcast of his talk show several weeks ago, he made some controversial remarks about pelvic health. In short, he said that chronic pelvic pain, like endometriosis, is what some refer to as a “garbage bag diagnosis.”
When speaking with a caller who’s wife suffered from some of these conditions, including endometriosis, Dr. Drew said: “These are all sort of what we call functional disorders. Everything you mentioned are things that actually aren’t discernibly pathological.”
You can read more about it in this online article from Women’s Health Magazine.
While Dr. Drew has since apologized for and clarified his comments, I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about endometriosis, a common and very real disorder. Not only can it be diagnosed, there are treatment options for women who might be suffering from it.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that is normally found within a woman’s uterus is located outside of the uterus and results in inflammation and scarring. The inflammation and scarring causes painful periods, pelvic pain, and may cause other problems including ovarian cysts, painful urination, painful bowel movements, pain with intercourse or difficulty becoming pregnant.
What do you think about Dr. Drew’s comments?
Unfortunately, Dr. Drew has it wrong regarding endometriosis. Endometriosis can be diagnosed and it is a real condition that affects many women. Unfortunately, many women suffer from endometriosis and do not even know they have it. Sadly, many women who suffer from chronic pelvic pain associated with endometriosis unfairly have their pain labeled as being “all in their head.” This results in many women having a delay in their diagnosis and getting the treatment that they need.
Can it be diagnosed?
Endometriosis is officially diagnosed through a surgical procedure called laparoscopy. During laparoscopy, small incisions, about the size of the width of a finger, are made on a woman’s belly and a camera is placed inside a women’s pelvis to look for the presence of endometriosis lesions. Unfortunately, endometriosis cannot be diagnosed alone with a blood test, ultrasound or CT scan which is one reason why women may go undiagnosed.
What are the symptoms? When should you see a specialist?
Endometriosis can have many different symptoms including painful periods, pelvic pain even when a woman is not having a period, irregular bleeding, pain with sex, painful bowel movements, pain with urination or difficulty getting pregnant. A woman should see a specialist when she has any of these symptoms and the symptoms persist and do not get better with routine treatment.
Why can it sometimes be diagnosed late in life or never at all?
Many women with endometriosis suffer for a long time before they are diagnosed because the symptoms of endometriosis can be non-specific and the symptoms are often attributed to other conditions such as pelvic infections or bowel disorders. Additionally, endometriosis is diagnosed with surgery rather than tests that doctors routinely order such as ultrasounds or CT scans and many doctors do not consider the diagnosis of endometriosis.
What are the treatment options?
Endometriosis can be treated both surgically and medically. When endometriosis is diagnosed, all of the endometriosis lesions that are seen in the pelvis are usually surgically removed, and a woman will keep her uterus and ovaries. After surgery, hormones such as birth control pills or medication are used to help suppress the endometriosis to prevent it from flaring again. Once a woman is done having children she may choose to have her uterus and ovaries removed to treat the condition.
Anything else you feel is important to add?
It is not normal for a young girl or a woman to miss school or work or to be debilitated when she is on her period. Suffering from pelvic pain does not have to be a routine part of being a female and there is help available. If you or someone you love is suffering from symptoms associated with endometriosis, please see a gynecologist for evaluation.
This blog post was contributed by Dr. Tiffany Jackson, a board certified OB/GYN physician on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Garland.