What Black Women Need to Know About Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a health problem that many women face—particularly Black women.
Shot of a young woman suffering from stomach cramps in her bedroom Getty
By Kimberly Wilson · February 28, 2019

Endometriosis is a health problem that many women face — particularly Black women. In fact, endometriosis is cited as the single most common causes of chronic pelvic pain in women (pelvic pain that has lasted for six months or longer). Many have probably heard the term but are unsure as to what it is exactly. We’re going to break it down for you, like it’s never been broken down: Endometriosis occurs when this tissue grows outside of the uterus on other organs or structures in the body. Once in the pelvis, the endometrial tissue causes inflammation and scarring as it attaches to pelvic organs (fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowel and bladder). This scarring and inflammation is what causes the painful symptoms many with endometriosis experience. The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown but possibilities include menstrual bleeding that goes through the fallopian tubes into the pelvis, genetic factors (it is more common in families) and having had a prior Cesarean section (C-section) delivery. Endometriosis sometimes runs in families and is more common among first-degree relatives (mothers, sisters, and children) of women with endometriosis. It is more likely to occur in women with the following characteristics: They have had their first baby after age 30, they have never had a baby, they have short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days) that are heavy and last a long time, they have started to menstruate earlier than usual or stopped menstruating later than usual, they have certain structural abnormalities of the uterus or they have mothers who, when pregnant, took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), prescribed to prevent miscarriage (in 1971, the drug was banned in the United States). Does this sound like an issue that you, a friend or a family member has endured? Have you ever considered their commonalities when thinking about your pain? Many unfortunately have had to do the groundwork for figuring out their own diagnosis when it comes to endometriosis because Black women unfortunately have suffered in silence for decades. The reason? We seemingly have to take care of ourselves. For many who seek treatment for their pain, their needs are often dismissed as psychological than physical. A problem that also extends far beyond Endometriosis, but reflects our healthcare system overall. Tia Mowry even has spoken out about the long and lonely road to getting an actual diagnosis for her pain. “The diagnosis wasn’t the first time I realized something might be wrong,” she writes for Oprah Magazine. “I’d been experiencing extreme pelvic pain for years and went to several doctors. Each one would brush me off. ‘Those are just really bad cramps, some women get them more severely.'” One doctor told her to try heat; another suggested exercise. If you think you have these symptoms, don’t fret — endometriosis is extremely common. It actually affects more than 11% of American women ages 15 to 44. However, that number could be even higher. It can be hard to diagnose, since women can have endometriosis and not have any symptoms . Though there are no cures for endometriosis, the good news is there are plenty of ways to deal with the pain. The better news? You’re not in this alone. Thankfully now, there are plenty of resources such as the Black Women’s Health Imperative that offer guidance and support for Black women when it comes to their physical and mental health journeys. But a simple way to start is with your gynecologist or primary care provider. They can help you come up with the best treatment plan to keep pain in check (which, we know can be painful at times) . The most common treatments that may recommend may include: Hormonal birth control (pills or intrauterine device), gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist, pain relievers and surgery. Remember sis, it’s your body, and you’ve only got one of them. So please always make sure you’re doing what is best for you.