By Tamer Seckin, MD, Gynecologic Surgeon, as told to writer Lauren Urban
This story originally appeared on The Well by Northwell
When I was studying medicine in the late 1980s, almost all women who complained of pelvic pain were given a general diagnosis of some kind of infection, such as a sexually transmitted disease. Something told me this was very wrong. As I gained more experience as a surgeon, I felt comfortable exploring the issue on my own, and what I discovered shocked me. Many of these patients had lesions that didn’t indicate an infection at all—rather it was endometriosis, a condition in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, causing pain.
From then on, I made it my mission to help women get a proper diagnosis and treatment—and I’ve spent the past 25 years dedicated exclusively to endometriosis. While progress has been made, endometriosis is still grossly misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Considering the fact that it affects as many as 15 percents of all women, it’s crucial to shed light on this disease.
Here are 5 things you probably don’t know about endometriosis:
Despite the staggering statistics, many people don’t know about endometriosis. Why? From a social standpoint, menstruation is often considered taboo. For this reason, women often don’t talk about it. In addition, the medical community doesn’t give endometriosis the attention it deserves, so many doctors have little to no knowledge of or training in it. Thus, when a woman complains of pelvic pain, doctors often misdiagnose her and/or simply prescribe pain medication.
Because many doctors don’t know a lot about endometriosis, it’s crucial to be on the lookout for warning signs in your own body. One of the main symptoms is prolonged bleeding with periods, along with significant cramps that last beyond two days and are not alleviated with over-the-counter pain medication. In addition, your odds of having endometriosis are even higher if you also experience gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal discomfort, intestinal cramps, gas, bloating, constipation, or painful bowel movements; these are all very frequent signs of endometriosis, especially if these symptoms overlap and flare up during your period. Unfortunately, women with these complaints are commonly misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—but endometriosis should be considered if painful periods are also present. A third symptom may be infertility. Many women who have difficulty getting pregnant don’t know they have endometriosis. In these cases, they go to fertility clinics for help and are unsuccessful, not realizing what they actually need to do to get pregnant is treat their endometriosis.
If you suspect that you might have endometriosis, it’s important to be proactive and see a specialist right away because symptoms worsen over time if left untreated. For example, instead of just having a painful period for a few days of the month, you may start experiencing weeks of painful ovulation, painful intimacy, infertility, and other systemic challenges. In about 75 percent of cases, endometriosis starts during the adolescent years, with the very first period. Many times, patients come to me very late in the game, sometimes 10 years after their first period, and the disease has advanced. Early detection and treatment could stop the progression of endometriosis and help so many women avoid unnecessary pain and complications, and improve their quality of life.
If you are diagnosed with endometriosis, stay calm and know that there is help out there. Going on birth control might be enough to make your period lighter and shorter, which may ease your symptoms. If this doesn’t work, surgery may be necessary. Different doctors use various surgical techniques, but to me, excision of the excess tissue through surgery is the gold standard. The purpose of this surgery is to thoroughly remove all of the lesions (the sources of pain) at once in order to avoid the need for repeat surgeries.
Research your doctor carefully, and read up about endometriosis so that you can ask questions and be involved in the diagnosis and treatment process. It’s important to choose a doctor who is not only highly skilled at treating this disease, but who will also be compassionate and listen to your complaints very carefully. It’s also important that the doctor has access to a multidisciplinary team of specialists, such as gastroenterologists and urologists since endometriosis can affect many organs in the body and requires a collaborative approach to treatment.
Some celebrities—such as Padma Lakshmi, Lena Dunham, and Julianne Hough—have decided to share their stories of having endometriosis. I think it’s very selfless of them to use their platform to speak about such an important issue and to help others who are struggling. But we still need more awareness. And we can start by educating ourselves about endometriosis and looking out for the signs—not just in ourselves but also in our daughters, nieces, sisters, and friends. Together we can help so many women combat this treatable disease.
I’ve seen many obgyns over the years explaining my monthly symptoms during my period...but eventually it became a daily struggle with these pain. It feels like a poke here and there near my right pelvic region. I was given birth control pills for the past ten years but honestly, it didn’t help at all. I was in bed whenever I had my period. I was previously sent to GI doctors for possible appendicitis but it was ruled out from imagings…
Dr.Seckin is so much more than a surgeon. His passion for helping endometriosis sufferers and determination to improve the quality of life in all of his patients is undeniable. I remember when my gynecologist first told me I needed a laparoscopy. Her exact words were "I can do the surgery, but if you were MY daughter- I'd send you to him." From the first day I met him he took the time to explain endometriosis to me since I knew…
I was there for hysterectomy but then I found out that I also had endometriosis.My both surgeries went excellent and I feel great!.I am so thankful to Dr.Seckin and all his team for making my journey smooth!
I am a physician who suffered from deep infiltrative endometriosis. I needed laparoscopic surgery, so I went to see my former gynaecologist and he performed the procedure (a surgery which he supposedly does hundreds of times a year) last November. I had severe pain again when I had my period in January and was advised to go on taking a low hormone dose anticoncipient pill. My symptoms came back quickly and got worse in a few months’ time. I went…
After years of excessively painful periods, a serious loss of quality of life, and a series of uninformed and uninterested doctors, Dr. Seckin and Dr. Goldstein turned my life around. I was told I woke up from my surgery almost a year ago with a smile on my face, and I haven't stopped since. Before I heard of Dr. Seckin, I was experiencing almost daily terrible pain to the point where I had difficulty walking, inability to eat, inexplicable weight…
Dr Seckin and his team gave me back my life! Tomorrow will be 1 month since my surgery and I feel great. Dr. Seckin, Dr Liu, and Dr Goldstein are not only beyond words talented and amazing Doctors, but they are also genuinely wonderful and caring people. I cannot say enough great things about Holly, Asiye and Kim as well. They were all caring, kind, patient, and took the time to listen to me and explain anything I needed to…
Dr. Seckin and his staff spared me from years and years of heavy periods and unbearable endometriosis pain. After having surgery with him (my first) I can now function like a regular human. No more eating NSAIDs like candy and calling out sick from work. Thank you, Dr. Seckin!