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Tens of thousands of Irish people are facing their romantic and sex lives being damaged by chronic pain, a study revealed yesterday.

1.65 million sufferers nationwide live with acute and persistent discomfort in Ireland, which takes a toll on work, sleep, leisure and relationships.

35 percent of study participants claimed that the persistent pain had deeply affected their sex lives, with 17 percent saying their pain had a huge impact on their physical relationships.

Chronic pain is defined by health experts and doctors as over 12 weeks of consistent pain, with the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists saying three-out-of-four sufferers can't live regular lives

Among those with chronic pain, almost half reported that their ability to sleep had been damaged. 

Dr Brona Fullen of the UCD School of Public Health said:

“Living with persistent pain is not easy. Not only does it impact on on physical well-being but also your mental health. Emotions such as worry, stress, anxiety, low mood, fear and anger can develop.”

The survey interviewed 1,000 people, with 434 reporting that they had suffered chronic pain at one part in their lives.

75 percent said that it had a negative impact on their social activities and exercise. 70 percent of sufferers admitted that it damaged their ability to take part in family life and playing with their children.

Chronic pain is costing the taxpayer billions each year, according to the ISCP. This Sunday marks World Physiotherapy Day, with the 2019 theme being chronic pain.

The normal tissue healing frame is three-to-six months, and most chronic pain conditions have no apparent biological value. The causes and cures of female pain disorders are especially under-researched.

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According to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, at least 200 million women worldwide have endometriosis. That's one in every ten people with uteruses (including me).

The disorder is classified as an estrogen-dependent chronic inflammatory disease that affects women starting at reproductive age. Because it's a female pain disorder, the cause is entirely unknown.

Tissue similar to the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus, causing painful lesions and numerous highly disruptive symptoms. From pelvic pain, nausea, brain fog and fatigue to lower back pain and chronic abdominal pain; it literally won't leave you alone.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Even worse, it takes the average person nine years to get diagnosed with endometriosis. Even with diagnosis, there's no cure for the condition so you're fairly stuck for options.

Many women choose birth control pills or an IUD to try and reduce the symptoms, but even with excision and ablation surgery, the disorder will keep on regenerating. 

Surgical removal of the lesions and hormonal contraception can help, but you're never free from it's grip. Some women have horrific symptoms but very few lesions, making it even harder to understand.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Noemie Elhadad, a professor of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University, decided to study data sets on the disease, discovering a shocking dearth of information.

Speaking to HuffPost, she said; 

"It’s frustrating because there’s really not a whole lot of solutions out there. Treatments are available, but we don’t know who yet who will respond in which way to what treatments. There’s still a whole lot of experimentation required and it’s really a burden on the patient.”

Elhadad’s own frustration with endometriosis coupled as well as her research on the intersection of technology and medicine spurred her to look further into the matter.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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“There’s not tonne of documentation in medical claims about how many surgeries women experience for endometriosis and what type of surgery is done for them, for example. It felt like we were missing actual relevant data to study better the disease.”

That need for data led Elhadad to create Phendo, an app which allows sufferers to track their endometriosis symptoms, treatments and pain-management strategies.

“I want to change the mental model of the way the disease is diagnosed,” states Elhadad. Herself and other researchers asked patients directly to share their experiences to build a catalogue of symptoms.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Phendo has over 6,000 participants globally who engage and track their symptoms on the app, creating helpful data for scientists and medical researchers. 

It's also a means to educate women so they can adequately advocate for themselves at the doctor's office, which can be an intimidating place.

“There’s a lot of evidence by now of gender biases in healthcare where women in general are not being heard when they talk about their symptoms,” said Elhadad.

The app “can show in a very nearly mathematical way, a graph of this is how your pain has been in the past few months, it feels like an accurate description and something that feels so objective about who they are and hopefully a way to get heard.”

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“The world is disturbingly comfortable with the fact that women sometimes leave a sexual encounter in tears.” Lili Loofbourow

According to a recent study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, about 30 percent of women report feeling pain during vaginal intercourse.

This alarming statistic is only recorded amongst women who are even comfortable speaking to doctors about sex, meaning that a far greater number could be more accurate.

Another hugely concerning fact which the study expressed is that "large proportions" of women don't tell their partners when sex hurts, they simply grin and bear it.

This testifies to the notion that women often sacrifice their pleasure, not to mention their comfort, for male satisfaction. The assumption that “bad sex” simply means the absence of pleasure is a naïve one- for many women, “bad sex” can mean extreme discomfort and even agony.

Debby Herbenick, an academic from the Indiana University School of Public Health and one of those who incentivised the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behaviour, confirmed this suggestion.

"When it comes to 'good sex,'" she commented, "women often mean without pain, men often mean they had orgasms."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The satisfaction scale for men and women is clearly imbalanced. Painful sex isn’t the rare outlier that it’s proclaimed to be, in fact, it’s far more widespread than imagined.

For some women, such as those suffering from illnesses such as endometriosis, ectopic pregnancies and vaginismus, it’s part of their reality.

For others, they are in need of more foreplay, lubrication or comfort. Anxiety and tension can have a drastic impact on female sexual pleasure. 

There are dozens of possible reasons why you could be experiencing pain during sex, ranging from the physical to the psychological.

The troubling thing is that so many of these reasons are not well-known, and they are scarcely researched or prioritised in our healthcare systems.

Dyspareunia is the medical term for painful sex, and can be a deeply distressing condition which takes a massive emotional toll on those who experience it.

According to another scientific article on women’s pain:

“Approximately 15% of women have chronic dyspareunia that is poorly understood, infrequently cured, often highly problematic, and distressing.”

The stigma surrounding problems such as the ones mentioned above is part of the reason why women aren’t discussing their sexual pain, especially not with healthcare practitioners.

Even if a woman feels willing and able to discuss her sex life with her doctor, the lack of research into female pain in general as well as in sexual medicine means that even more barriers crop up.

Sexual assault arguably can also contribute towards experiencing pain during future sexual encounters.

Numerous studies support the idea that a mental block is created surrounding sex, which lives with survivors long after their attack.

Without a healthy view of sex and positive sexual experiences, women are not being given the tools to vocalise their pain.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Other disorders such as vulvodynia, vestibulodynia, interstitial cystitis, vaginitis, vaginal atrophy, fibroids, lichen sclerosus and lichen planus (skin disorders), ovarian cysts and endometriosis have all been grossly under-reported, and awareness of these conditions is extremely limited.

Yeast infections, overly tight pelvic floor muscles, bowel problems and hormonal imbalances can also be major contributors to pain during sex, as well as STI’s.

BBC Three has recently aired a visceral visual essay series, where director Sindha Agha decided to artistically depicted the female experience of painful sex.

The beautiful video uses colourful imagery and imaginative props such as glass, metal nails, sprinkles, knives and fruit to parallel with the emotional narration:

Endometriosis sufferer Rhoda Hierons reads her own words aloud with a gorgeous and vivid backdrop, describing the pain of sex as “glass shattering inside you and embedding itself”.

Sindha Agha emotively explains the meaning behind her video: “I’m trying to create an external language for women’s innermost experiences,” she claims.

“As women, I feel we’ve been led to believe that many of our experiences are indescribable, incommunicable; that even when we can figure out how to talk about what happens inside our bodies and our minds, that we’d better not — that others don’t want to hear it because it’s too gross, too sad, too strange. Above all, that we won’t be understood."

System injustices in healthcare need to change if women ever want to truly understand and gain respect for their own bodies.

Women have never been given the tools to communicate their pain, especially not during sex. Language is not in a woman’s favour, even the medical understanding of the female anatomy is not where it should be.

Without the words, women cannot use language to communicate.

Without language, there is no voice that can even attempt to ask for the help that they desperately need. 

For more information, check out some of these informative websites on pain and female sexual health:

Mayo Clinic – Dyspareunia

https://www.mazewomenshealth.com/painful-sex-vaginal-pain/

Ask Me About My Uterus -New York Times

Centre for Vulvo-Vaginal Disorders

https://Sexual Advice Association UK

https://YouTube- Pelvic Pain

https://rebelliousmagazine.com/guide-reclaiming-pleasurable-sex-dyspareunia-beyond/ 

American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists

Vulval Pain Society

Endometriosis Society of Ireland

Feature image: Agnes Cecile/Instagram/@agnes_cecile

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By Kate Brayden

I don't trust doctors with my body.

First of all, they're not Gods, they're human. As a young woman, and especially for people of colour and for those with disabilities, trusting someone with your body can be a dangerous mistake. 

Second of all; I have been misdiagnosed numerous times during my three years of chronic pain, yet I managed to get diagnosed with endometriosis in three years when the average amount of time is remarkably longer. In fact, it takes the regular person with a uterus nine years in Ireland to get handed their scratch card with the unlucky result on it.

My father is a pharmacologist, and when I asked him why the funding for research regarding this particular illness is so low, he said that it was presumably because of it's rarity. I then pointed out that it affects one in 10 people with uteruses (to include the transgender community), and he was undeniably disturbed. It's one of the main links to female infertility, yet the progress and pain which women have to go through to be believed and treated is still preposterously lengthy. 

Endometriosis is an illness affecting people with uteruses, where tissue which lines the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside your womb. It commonly involves your ovaries, fallopian tubes and tissue lining your pelvis, but can appear in the bowel and bladder also. Displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as if everything was regular- it thickens, breaks down and bleeds every time you get your period. It becomes trapped, without any way to exit the body. The symptoms include heavy bleeding during menstruation, lower back pain, pain during sex, infertility, pain during urination or with bowel movements, nausea, bloating and dysmenorrhea (painful periods.) It's zero craic, I'll tell you that for free.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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It's often misdiagnosed as IBS, ovarian cysts, Pelvic Inflammatory Disorder (PIV) or even just female hysteria, due to the 'gender pain gap'. Back in the day, people genuinely created an illness surrounding female mental health, with symptoms attributing to; delusions, nervousness, hallucinations, emotional outbursts and various urges of the sexual variety. A bit like witch-hunting, where 'deviant' women (basically all the single ladies and spinsters) were presumed to be the devil's workers purely out of misogyny. The word 'womb' actually translates to 'hysteria', insinuating that anyone cursed with this life-bearing organ is marked with it's limitations and presumptions about the woman's mind and body.

Caroline Criado Perez' vast and valuable work, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, argues that the gender pain gap is part and pace of something bigger; “gender data gap.” The data which society has collected is typically about men's experiences, and most often straight, white men. The data is used to allocate research funding and design decisions all around us from public transport to housing, healthcare to infrastructure. The 'default', is always male, she says.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Pain medication has been designed by men with men in mind as the default user, therefore the side effects are rarely tested on women. This is only one small example of the repercussions in female healthcare of the gender data gap. We are twice as likely to die of heart related diseases, and far less likely to be given pain relief or treated immediately in the Emergency Department.

After suffering for two years of chronic pain, I know when to spot a doctor who sees my symptoms as 'psychosomatic'. That's in inverted commas because ALL pain is real, even for those whose emotion is controlling their physical torment. After exhausting all my resources in the Irish healthcare system as well as the UK, I decided it was time to remove all my savings from the bank and book a plane ticket to Washington DC. When you have intense chronic pain every single day and doctors have no idea how to help you, spontaneous and stubborn choices are easy. I learned to go with my gut, and to stand up for myself in clinics. Many female chronic pain sufferers maintain that they receive noticeably better treatment and empathy if her boyfriend or husband is in the room with them. I can also vouch for this. When my boyfriend accompanied me to doctor appointments, the practitioner would often turn to him for answers to questions which were directed at me, or about me. 'Health-care gaslighting' is oh so real, and I have lost count of how many times I was told to 'take a Panadol' when I went to A&E.

One of my first consultant experiences where I was having extreme abdominal cramping, nausea and burning sensations in my pelvis, back and legs was in a major maternity hospital in Dublin. It was intimidating for a 21-year-old woman who was neither pregnant nor accompanied by anyone. The consultant who I waited four months in crippling pain to meet was a prominent doctor whose name was tied to the CervicalCheck scandal. Basically, I waited to see a doctor who was destined to shrug me off. 

It went downhill from there. Over the course of two and a half years, I had nerve blocker injections, was put on Lyrica and Amitriptylene (two nerve pain medications with enormously harsh side effects and little worth), had intense physiotherapy, diet transformation, two inconclusive biopsies, smear tests, hormone treatments, and every blood, allergy and auto-immune test under the sun. I was refused a CT scan and an MRI, and decided it was time to get a laparoscopy. This is the only way for a woman to find out if she has endometriosis, and despite the fact that I fit all the symptoms, it was never offered to me. Just coming up to my second year of consistent pain, I was sent to a consultant gynaecologist in the Mater Private to stop my menstrual cycle. My nerve pain was cyclical and I desperately wanted to stop this aspect of my pain. I requested a laparoscopy from a relatively young, male doctor, and was refused. I explained that aspects of my pain fitted the symptoms, but nevertheless he denied it. After calling a family member into the room for back-up, he eventually agreed and I was scheduled in for the keyhole surgery. 

I was brought in some time later for my results, instead of being called over the phone or sent an email. He spoke to me for under two minutes, said there was no evidence for my pain and my GP ceased my pain medication. He said there was no endometriosis in the scans, and that he had no other ideas to offer me for my mysterious chronic illness. In under two minutes and for €200, his words translated to; 'I don't believe you. You're being dramatic.' I stormed out of his office and slammed the door on the Irish healthcare system.

Six months later I was on a plane to see one of the top doctors in the US, and knew I wouldn't regret a thing. I met the doctor in a serene clinic in Washington DC, and he greeted me with a hug. Already I had more confidence, even though I was paying a huge price for it.

Two hours with the doctor included an examination, a comprehensive survey of my entire medical history since birth (mental, physical and sexual) and a consultation. As it turns out, I also walked away with a surgery plan and diagnosis. After three years, I got my hope back in two hours. I'd have paid millions if I had it, and it was worth every cent. I booked the surgery for a few months later, and organised time off work. Then I booked my flights to New York, packed my bags and brought two family members who would take care of me for the four week recovery. Three of those weeks were spent holed up, unable to move, in a New Jersey Airbnb. After the surgery, my doctor (who has a stellar reputation and has carried out over 800 of these surgeries) said that endometriosis was mysteriously found during the procedure. He exclaimed that it was the first time he'd ever seen it in one of his patients, and that it was in an extremely rare place which no other doctor of his type would have been able to remove except him. He's full of confidence in himself, but he's right to be this way. He gives women their lives back and sees them go on to live without pain and to be able to have children and happy, healthy relationships. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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I pushed aside my surprise about this setback, and focused on my nerve removal surgery recovery. Six gruelling weeks later, I had watched enough Netflix to power a large, densely populated city and was ready to fly back to New York for my check-up. I brought the laparoscopy from the Mater Private one year previously along with me for my surgeon to inspect. He had sent off the tissue to the pathology department, who were baffled by this and said they disagreed with his diagnosis. They had no suggestion for what it could be, despite the fact that the tissue looks exactly like endometriosis lesions. For those who aren't aware, endometriosis lesions look like black gunpowder rings. (Kind of like something from Stranger Things.)

My surgeon and a gynaecologist both examined my Irish scans and immediately pointed out the disease in the images, thus diagnosing me with the illness. It's safe to say I am not impressed with the Mater, but I also feel let down by nearly every doctor who saw me. I went to a GP with this pain over 15 times (5 separate GPs, I might add), visited three Irish hospitals on numerous occasions, flew to the UK multiple times to see professors in the chronic pain field and was misdiagnosed. I am now on a progesterone pill, which will hopefully suppress my symptoms, and am investigating whether the endometriosis is in my bladder. Yet how can I trust what results I am given in the Irish healthcare system, after this? 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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There is so much left to be done, when it comes to this illness. In terms of funding, it is increasingly shown that male pleasure trumps female pain; research of erectile dysfunction receives more funding than every female pain disorder combined, despite the fact that one-in-three women will experience this at some stage.

A blood test is currently in the works to discover endometriosis without having to undergo a flawed keyhole surgery. Amazingly, a new pill is being trialled which could potentially cure the lesions themselves, according to scientists at Washington School of Medicine.  It's only early days; the drug has been tested on mice, but it's hoped the human trials will present similar findings. The antibiotics could potentially cure or reverse the effects of endometriosis, essentially ending the pain of millions of women. While I wish this pill could have been available three years ago, I will still stand up for myself to demand access to this treatment, I will still research the side effects and long term tested effects doggedly, and I will still never stop questioning every detail a doctor tells me. It could change your life, even if they call you hysterical.

Feature image credit: Flickr/@P_I_O_T_R

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Lena Dunham has always been candid abut her struggle with endometriosis and openly documented her journey.

The actor and writer took to Instagram to mark one year since undergoing a hysterectomy due to the severity of her condition. 

She posted to photos side-by-side; one of her appearing downcast and the other of her smiling.

She wrote, ''What a difference a year makes…First photo was indeed a year ago today, on the first night after my hysterectomy for severe endometriosis.''

She continued, ''I was smiling but my eyes say it all: full of anxiety and grief that I couldn't locate through the layers of pain meds and benzos. The second pic was taken tonight, happy joyous and (substance) free.'' 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What a difference a year makes… First photo was indeed a year ago today, on the first night after my hysterectomy for severe endometriosis. I was smiling but my eyes say it all: full of anxiety and grief that I couldn’t locate through the layers of pain meds and benzos. Severe undiagnosed PTSD, feelings that my worth and purpose were being taken from me, angry and self-pitying with no sense of how I’d emerge. Plus, my hair had fallen out in odd clumps and I’d taken it upon myself to dye what remained electric blue cuz if you’re gonna spiral why not SPIRAL (shout out to @joanaavillez for being a true friend and bringing Manic Panic when I demanded it at night in the hospital, though. I love you Jo.) The second pic was taken tonight, happy joyous and (substance) free. The last year hasn’t been all roses and Kenny G songs, but it’s been proof enough for me in the presence of the divine. The divine- it’s been there in the kindness of my family, friends, chronically ill folks online. It’s also been there in the moments where I cried myself to sleep, shocked by the sounds coming out of me. It’s in the light slanting on my comforter, the resilience of my best friend’s baby clonking her head then giggling, the new hairs sprouting at my temples. Mostly I’ve found it in my own strength, because who the fuck knew. And I don’t mean strength as in powering through. I mean strength as in vulnerability, feeling it all, taking it as it comes and dancing even with a hospital grade pad in my underwear. I surprised myself. I bet you can surprise yourself too.

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

The 32-year-old had been battling endometriosis for more than a decade hen she made the heart-wrenching decision to have her uterus removed at the age of 31.

She penned an essay for Vogue explaining why, and also acknowledging that she did always wnt to have children, but knew there was something wrong.

She writes, ''I check myself into the hospital and announce I am not leaving until they stop this pain or take my uterus. Sometimes it takes a while for the reality of infertility to set in, the rage.'' 

However she is celebrating how much stronger she is one year on from surgery.

She writes that, ''I’ve found it in my own strength, because who knew. And I don’t mean strength as in powering through. I mean strength as in vulnerability, feeling it all, taking it as it comes and dancing even with a hospital grade pad in my underwear.''

''I surprised myself. I bet you can surprise yourself too.''

Her fans were full of support for her, writing, ''Your vulnerability is inspiring. We love you.''

Another said, ''You wear your soul in the words written. I so admire you.''

Keep doing what you're doing Lena – you are a true inspiration to so many women everywhere. 

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Gender bias in the medical industry is becoming increasingly more prominent as a direct result of women sharing their stories and opening up about their experiences with pain and illness.

Just last year, a study carried out by the Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health found that women are less likely to be given CPR. Men were more likely to survive cardiac arrest in a public place by a massive 23%.

This year alone, the CervicalCheck scandal has rightfully caused outrage in Ireland, when it was reported that hundreds of smears were in fact out-of-date, which resulted in the wrongful diagnosis of numerous women who could have survived if they had been given the accurate results in time. Only mere weeks ago, cervical cancer sufferer and campaigner Emma Mhic Mathúna died aged 37, a mother of five.

In tragic and life-altering instances such as these, women deserve compassion and respect in their healthcare journeys, it has since been reported that doctors were told to "use their own judgement" regarding whether or not to tell patients about their misdiagnosis.

The right to information surrounding your own body should be the lowest bar set, it cannot simply be a privilege for the few. Bodily autonomy has never been an equal playing field for men and women.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Vicky Phelan sued the US laboratory who wrongfully interpreted the results and was awarded €2.5 million in compensation by the High Court, after finding out in September 2017 that her 2011 smear test was a false negative.

In 2016, researchers at University College London found that women with dementia receive worse medical treatment than their male counterparts with the same condition. I could go on.

Statistics and cases such as these may seem like aberrations in the system, yet so many women claim to experience sexism in their GP clinics, local hospitals and consultants offices every day.

Gender, race and poverty are undeniable biases in healthcare- none of these should ever be ignored.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Sexism has been a major factor in medicine since time began, from Aristotle’s declaration that the female form is naturally inferior, to the connection of the uterus with apparent female “hysteria” in the middle ages, trying to get a doctor to empathise with female pain can be draining and hugely frustrating.

This is not helped by the fact that the majority of consultants and specialists are male, and are rarely trained to spot female symptoms or female illnesses in the same detail as those of the male body.

It may seem absurd in this day and age that the Victorians confined women to asylums, whether they showed any evidence of mental illness or not, but doubt still leaks into clinics and hospitals when it comes to female pain.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The fact that women have to go through the most difficult time to get a diagnosis of female illnesses such as fibromyalgia and endometriosis speaks volumes into the lack of funding which goes into researching these diseases, which affect thousands of women nationwide.

Fibromyalgia is still suspended in the disbelief of numerous practitioners, despite women pertaining symptoms for years at a time without gaining any appropriate treatment.

Lady Gaga has recently spoken out as a sufferer of this condition, asking for better healthcare to treat this complex disease which causes total body pain.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Women are portrayed as hysterical hypochondriacs, and men are constantly depicted as the silent stoic types, who refuse to show weakness in the form attending a prostate exam that could save their life.

The Girl Who Cried Pain represents a 2001 study by Anita Tarzian and Diane Hoffman which examined pain management and gender. It showed clearly that women were far less likely to be given pain relief or long-term medication for pain (drugs such as Gabapentin, Lyrica and Amitriptylene), and it also revealed that women are less likely to gain the adequate treatment by healthcare providers.

Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman is another fascinating read which describes her torturous experience of trying to get a diagnosis for her endometriosis, a dangerous illness where uterine tissue grows on organs outside of the womb. Often the only treatment is sedatives, or a hysterectomy. Endometriosis UK has claimed that despite the illness affecting 1 in 10 women, it takes an average of nine years to get a diagnosis.

I had to beg my own consultant for a laparoscopy exam after two relentless years of chronic abdominal pain, and he stopped my GP from prescribing me my vital pain medication after claiming that there was “no reason” for my pain. AKA, he didn’t believe me.

I have since been diagnosed in the US after three years with a congenital pain condition where I was born with a vast excess of nerve endings at the base of my spine, which affects over 13% of women, and yet not a single doctor in Ireland or Britain could offer any treatment or advice.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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When I went to America, the specialist who has thousands of female patients who travel across America to see him told me that he is refused funding daily for his clinical trials and research into female pain, for the reason that all the funding is instead siphoned into drugs aimed at male pleasure, despite there already being several high-quality treatments.

According to PubMed, there are currently over 2,000 trials focusing on erectile dysfunction, and a grand total of 300 on EVERY TYPE of female pain.

If you don’t believe that stigma and sexism is prevalent in healthcare, maybe question why it’s so easy for a man to walk out of a GP clinic with a prescription for Viagra, yet it takes a woman in excruciating pain nine years to get told she has endometriosis, a life-long illness.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Since 1995, it has been confirmed that women experience stimuli at a more intense level than men.

Women have a proven different experience of pain than men, surely they deserve to be taken as seriously?

Yet society has conditioned women to ignore their pain, to handle it with clenched teeth and no complaints.

If you’re going to focus entirely on male pleasure, don’t ignore female pain, because it won’t be kept silent.

By Kate Brayden

Feature image: Instagram/@kdkatcricket

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The fierce Lena Dunham is fighting for women everywhere, one nude photo at a time.

The influencer celebrated the nine-month anniversary of her hysterectomy with gorgeous photos of her body.

Posted on Instagram, her revealing portraits exposed the rawness of her painful experience over the past few years in a way that has resonated with women everywhere.

“I’ve never celebrated the 9 month anniversary of anything and I realized last night why that number feels so funny- I won’t ever do it the way I planned to.

“My body is mostly healed and every day I find a new bruise on my heart, but today I offer myself gratitude: from the most pained place, I somehow knew to choose myself.” 

 

Today is National Leathercraft Day, National Relaxation Day and National Lemon Merengue Pie Day. It’s also the 9 month anniversary of my hysterectomy. I’ve never celebrated the 9 month anniversary of anything and I realized last night why that number feels so funny- I won’t ever do it the way I planned to. My body is mostly healed and every day I find a new bruise on my heart, but today I offer myself gratitude: from the most pained place, I somehow knew to choose myself. The purest glint of who we are and know we can be is always available to us, calm and true at our center. My friend Paul named my uterus Judy, and when she was being uppity we called her out, hence the tattoo on my ribs, which hurt like fuck even through the pain meds: #RIPJudy. Today I give thanks for Judy, for her graceful exit and for this body, which is stronger than I’ve ever given it credit for. Happy Giving Birth To Myself Day.

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

The American actress was diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition where cells of endometrial-like tissue migrate outside of the uterus and attach to other places in the body.

These cells are structured to break down and bleed, but they cannot escape through a period if mislocated. This results in extreme pain that varies as hormone levels change, according to Endometriosis UK.

The condition affects one in ten women in the UK, and along with agonising pain, it often causes infertility.

After three hospitalisations within a year, Lena was unable to bear the terrible symptoms any further and decided to undergo a hysterectomy. She wrote about her life-changing experience in a moving letter.

“All along the way, a massive fear of mine was ‘being discovered,’ that someone would decide I wasn't strong enough for my work or my life because of what I dealt with physically and emotionally. But I am strong because of what I've dealt with.”

 

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Now, the Girls star is reflecting on endometriosis in honour of her hysterectomy anniversary with a powerful statement.

“The purest glint of who we are and know we can be is always available to us, calm and true at our center,” she said in celebration of her health. Lena urged women to remember, no matter what we are going through, that we can always find ourselves through the pain and trauma. Somewhere buried under all that hardship is a strong and powerful woman capable of digging herself out.

The actress explained her friend named her uterus Judy, and Lena has a tattoo in tribute to her lost, physical symbol of womanhood that reads ‘RIP Judy’.

“Today I give thanks for Judy, for her graceful exit and for this body, which is stronger than I’ve ever given it credit for. Happy Giving Birth To Myself Day.”

But the courageous actress is clear to convey that a woman's femininity does not lie in her levels of estrogen or her functioning uterus. It is defined by her strength to carry on and fight for her true self to shine through whatever obstacles life throws her way.

Lena continues to be a bold advocate for women’s health and openly sharing about her chronic condition has helped raise awareness of endometriosis and it’s painful symptoms.

“I am no longer scared of my body,” she declared. “In fact, I listen to it when it speaks. I have no choice but to respect what it tells me, to respect the strength of its voice and the truth of my own.”

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Health professionals in the Australia have been forced to apologise to a young woman after they misdiagnosed her endometriosis and blamed her symptoms on a 'bad diet'.

Karlie Wilkinson suffered from chronic pain and severe cramps for years before she was diagnosed with the condition.

After seeing multiple doctors, she was given a number of inaccurate explanations for her symptoms including bad period pains, appendicitis and a bad diet.

Some medics even suggested that the pain was all in her head.

At the age of 19, Karlie was finally diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition in which the layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows outside of it.

According to figures released by The Endometriosis Association of Ireland, approximately 10% of Irish women suffer from the condition and yet there remains a distinct lack of conversation around the topic.

But we're not alone. Women all across the world face difficulties in getting their symptoms acknowledged, and often feel isolated when a diagnosis is made.

And it's for this reason that Karlie set up a petition to get doctors to apologise for not taking her symptoms seriously.

With over 110,000 signatures, the successful campaign paved the way for Australia's medical community to recognise the condition as a genuine illness.

 

FriYAY

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“I had no idea what was wrong with me but I was in ridiculous pain all the time and would sometimes bleed for a whole month,” says Karlie according to Metro.

“As I got older, it became so unbearable I ended up in the emergency room at least five times.”

“They would do different tests, ultrasounds and x-rays but they all came back normal and they said it was all in my head.”

She went on to describe how she was often made feel stupid when her symptoms were treated like a joke.

“There was even a couple of times that they seemed to make a joke out of it and I thought “if only you could feel what was happening to me right now.”

 

Stealing brods mirror for a good ol selfie 

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Since setting up the petition, Karlie has received an official response from Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, stating: “The plan will focus on how to improve the lives of women who face this terrible condition.”

“Diagnosis of the condition currently takes on average around eight to nine years, placing a significant toll on individuals, families and the community.”

“This condition should have been better acknowledged and acted upon long ago but today we are taking action so the struggle that women face will no longer be silent or their battles private.”

For more information on the symptoms and treatment of endometriosis visit www.endometriosis.ie.

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Endometriosis is a relatively common condition in which the lining of the womb  grows outside of the uterus, and invades neighbouring areas such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowel and bladder.

 

It can cause severe period pain, heavy bleeding and digestive upset – an all-round nightmare. 

 

Endometriosis is considered to be an auto immune condition linked to excessive amounts of oestrogen.

 

While those suffering with endometriosis will be under the care of a gynaecologist, there are a number of additional ways you can help your symptoms naturally. 

 

Acupuncture

 

Acupuncture has been found to be very effective in treating both the symptoms of endometriosis, such as heavy bleeding and period pain, as well as reducing excessive endometrial growth. Your acupuncturist will seek to address both the underlying causes and improve your current symptoms, helping you find a real solution to this chronic condition.

 

Image result for cramps gif

 

Reduce Exposure to Oestrogen

 

As endometriosis is thought to be caused by excessive oestrogen, it is wise to reduce exposure to the many sources of environmental hormones we face today. Many chemicals mimic the action of oestrogen in the body, and are referred to as xenoestrogens.

 

BPA, found in plastic bottles and tin cans is one source, as are many cosmetic and personal hygiene ingredients such a parabens, and household cleaning and laundry products containing phthalates.

 

You should filter your drinking water to remove chemicals, and eat only organic foods, especially meat and dairy. Avoid soy products, flaxseed and any herb that has hormonal effects unless recommended by a professional. Not only will you be reducing your exposure to environmental oestrogen, but you will also be reducing the toxins that your liver has to eliminate. And as the liver is the main organ responsible for hormonal regulation, this can only be a good thing.

 

Image result for cramps gif

 

Castor Oil Packs

 

A very easy treatment that can be done in at home while you have you feet up! Castor oil is used to improve circulation, and is an old remedy for constipation. Naturopaths use castor oil packs to alleviate areas of local stagnation and improve circulation.

 

The castor oil pack is made by simply soaking a face cloth in castor oil, place it over the lower abdomen and cover with a hot water bottle (it is helpful to place some cling film between the face cloth and hot water bottle to seal in the oil). You can leave the castor oil pack in place for 20 minutes to several hours. This can be done daily, but is best avoided during menstruation or after ovulation if you are trying to conceive.

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According to figures released by The Endometriosis Association of Ireland, approximately 10% of Irish women suffer from the condition and yet there remains a distinct lack of conversation around the topic.

But we're not alone. Women all across the world face difficulties in getting their symptoms acknowledged, and often feel isolated when a diagnosis is made.

However, in an effort to break the stigma, one American woman has taken to Instagram to share the truth about living with endometriosis, a condition whereby a woman’s endometrial lining grows outside of the uterus.

Thessy Kouzoukas, a creative director and co-owner of the fashion brand Sabo Skirt, posted two side-by-side pictures showing the extent to which her condition effects her body.

The two photographs, taken just five weeks apart, demonstrate a vast difference in the size of Thessy's stomach.

 

This is quite shocking to people. This is me. This is endometriosis. I never intended to share these photos hence why I'm naked, but my god I can't believe the amount of DM's I've received from girls who have endo too and feel alone. The left is my stomach 3 weeks after a ruptured cyst (5 weeks ago). The right is me now, on a drug called "synarel" that has stopped all my hormones and sent me into menopause at the age of 27. My upcoming trip to Greece along with this drug is in hopes to get me prepped and in the best condition both physically and mentally for an operation I'm receiving in late August. Endo is no joke. I'll be operated on for 7+ hours and hospitalised for a week. Please, spread the word about endo. And If you know anyone with bad period pain PLEASE tell them to get checked for this. And to my girls with endo.. you're not alone

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This isn't the first time the 27-year-old has opened up her condition.

Earlier this year, she penned an incredibly honest piece for The Huffington Post, in which she described the unbearable abdominal pain experienced by endometriosis sufferers.

It read: “When I first got my period as a young teenager, I got labelled 'lazy' when I couldn't participate in certain sports at school, or 'drama queen' when I would take days off school because I was doubled over in the shower trying desperately to find relief from abdominal pain."

"We aren't told how much pain should be considered tolerable, or when too much pain could be an indication of something worse, like Endometriosis.”

For more information on endometriosis, visit www.endometriosis.ie. 

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Like almost everything else she has dealt with in life, actress and writer, Lena Dunham, has been exceedingly candid about her struggles with Endometriosis.

Opening up about the condition in her newsletter, Lena wrote: "From the first time I got my period, it didn’t feel right. The stomachaches began quickly and were more severe than the mild-irritant cramps seemed to be for the blonde women in pink-hued Midol commercials."

"Those might as well have been ads for yoghurt or the ocean, that’s how little they conveyed my experience of menstruating," she added.
 

And after more than a decade living with with the condition, Lena eventually underwent surgery in the past year and insists the procedure has had a profound impact on her life. 

"I am strong because of what I’ve dealt with," she said. "I am oddly fearless for a wimp with no upper body strength. And I am no longer scared of my body. In fact, I listen to it when it speaks."

Confirming this, Lena took to Instagram last night to share a snap of herself at a pool party she attended alongside her Girls co-stars.

"Mother bleeping pool party at the Hilton Garden Inn," she wrote, "Say hi guys! The pool party rages on."

Making reference to her condition and the surgery she underwent last November, she added: "When the Target swimsuit does a b**ch right, Endo scars & all."

Following the surgery, Lena told fans and followers: "I was better than I had been in ten years."

You go, Lena!

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We all have experienced uncomfortable cramps when it comes to that time of the month, but for others it can be more than a little uncomfortable. Endometriosis can cause unbearable period pains and is actually more common than we realise.

If you are suffering from any of these four symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.

Painkiller overload
If you are reaching your maximum daily painkiller intake but still can’t get relief from the pain there might be something a little more sinister going on.

Symptoms happen days or weeks before you get your period
It is not normal for cramping, diarrhoea or any other period pain to happen weeks before your time of the month.

You cancel things
Don’t just accept if you are cancelling nights out, calling in sick or being forced to stay in bed all day because of the pain, get it sorted and checked.

Going to the toilet hurts
If you notice that going to the toilet hurts a lot more during your period give your doctor a call.

There is no point enduring the pain when there might be another reason for it. Get it sorted, girl.

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