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Johannesburg - When radio presenter Pauline Sangham started experiencing unbearable period pain at the age of 36, she had no idea how the problem would change her life.
“The pain started slightly… I had gotten into a relationship and got married that same year. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling how I was; I thought it was just stress because I had such a demanding job,” said the now 42-year-old Lotus FM presenter.
“Two or three years later, I went to see my gynaecologist. He told me I was pregnant and had endometriosis.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I’m pregnant, but I co-host the drive show and have to be up at 4am and have so many deadlines’. The word, endometriosis, did not have an impact on me at all,” she continued.
Endometriosis occurs when cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other areas of the body. This leads to pain, irregular bleeding, and problems falling pregnant.
Sangham managed to have two children. But the monthly pain and constant mood swings started affecting her marriage and home life. She became a “monster” mom and wife, snapping constantly.
“The pain would get to a point where I felt it would be my last breath. I had to take time off work because I was always sick…
“Intercourse was extremely painful and the relationship between my husband and I deteriorated,” Sangham added.
She underwent laparoscopic procedures to remove her endometrial lesions. But when she stopped having the procedures for two years, her body gave her a reality check.
“I was busy at work and as I was walking, my legs just gave in and I collapsed. I was in ICU for two days. People don’t realise it, but endometriosis drains your body. You are constantly tired, you’re constantly in pain.
“I didn’t want to have a hysterectomy, but the doctors said I had no choice,” she said.
After eight years together, endometriosis had taken a toll on her relationship. Sangham’s husband moved out of their home and they divorced.
“Those years were like my own personal tsunami… when I look back, I wish I was more proactive than reactive to it. It’s been a long road.
“Yes, we all know cancer and breast cancer are important, but this, too, is important. It also changes your life,” she said.
Founder of the Endometriosis Society of South Africa, Lynne Zurnamer, who also lives with endometriosis, says women have to understand that there’s a difference between having cramps before their menstrual period and having them during their period, because the latter is one of the symptoms of endometriosis.
One in 10 women suffers from it, the common symptoms being chronic pelvic pain, period pain and pain during sexual intercourse.
It is normally diagnosed in women between 25 and 34 years of age. However, because of the complexity of the symptoms, the average delay in diagnosis is more than eight years.
“Period pain happens before a woman’s period… you become bloated, have backache or headaches.
“With endometriosis, the endometrium that grows within the uterus during the menstrual cycle grows on the ovaries or bladder, or pelvis or a woman’s Fallopian tubes, and they swell up, causing pain and a lot of scar tissue,” Zurnamer said.
While infertility is also another common problem associated with about 30 to 50 percent of women with endometriosis, Zurnamer said other less specific symptoms were fatigue and painful bowel movements during your period.
According to Zurnamer, women are raised to believe that it is normal to have pain during their periods and it is something you just have to “live with”, but she emphasised that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Period pain during your period is not normal.
“For some women, period pain is related to stress, but in most cases it runs in the family and while some women have said that after giving birth they no longer seemed to exhibit signs of endometriosis, the symptoms do come back,” she added.
Sangham, who believes her condition was aggravated by stress, advised that: “If you feel the symptoms, don’t believe they will go away; don’t ignore them.
“Go to your doctor and get a second or third opinion if you have to.”
IS THERE A CURE?
Zurnamer says there is currently no cure for endometriosis.
However, a new type of progesterone pill may hit the market in a couple of months and will be used as treatment for the disease.
The aim of endometriosis treatment is to relieve pain, to slow the growth of endometriosis, improve fertility and to prevent the disease from coming back after successful treatment.
Current treatments include putting patients on the contraceptive pill to regulate their period, hormones and blood flow, or on strong painkillers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Laparoscopic surgery is another option to remove endometrial lesions and, in severe cases, hysterectomy to remove the uterus.
You can also have a Mirena hormone implant inserted into the uterus, which is a slow- release hormone that lasts up to five years. - The Star