No-one is Too Young to Have Endometriosis
Far too many doctors still believe that endometriosis is rare in teenagers and young women.
Consequently, they do not consider a diagnosis of endometriosis when teenagers and young women come to them complaining of symptoms like period pain, pelvic pain and painful intercourse.
Unfortunately, this belief is a carry-over from earlier times. Before the introduction of laparoscopy in the 1970s, endometriosis could only be diagnosed during a laparotomy, major surgery involving a 10–15 cm incision into the abdomen. The risks and costs of a laparotomy meant it was usually done only as a last resort in women with the most severe symptoms who were past childbearing age. Because only women in their 30s or 40s were operated on, the disease was only found in women of that age. Subsequently ‘the fact’ arose that endometriosis was a disease of women in their 30s and 40s.
It was only with the introduction in the 1970s and 80s of laparoscopy to investigate women with infertility problems that gynaecologists began diagnosing the disease in women in their late 20s and early 30s, the age group being investigated. So, they revised the typical age range for endometriosis down to the late 20s and early 30s. Again, they did not consider that they might be ‘finding’ it because they were ‘looking’ for it.
The realisation that endometriosis could be found in teenagers and young women came about as a result of research by the national endometriosis support groups in the mid 1980s, which caught the attention of some eminent gynaecologists in the 1990s. Dr Marc Laufer of the Children’s Hospital Boston conducted studies of teenagers with chronic pelvic pain. One of his studies showed that adolescents whose chronic pelvic pain was not alleviated by an oral contraceptive pill and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like Ponstan had a high prevalence of endometriosis—as high as 70%.
Most recently the Global Study of Women’s Health, conducted in 16 centres in ten countries, showed that two thirds of women sought help for their symptoms before the age of 30, many experiencing symptoms from the start of their first period.
Teenagers and young women in their early 20s are not too young to have endometriosis – in fact, most women experience symptoms during adolescence, but unfortunately don’t get diagnosed and treated until they are in their 20s or 30s.