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Women suffering from endometriosis protesting in Malaga. Marilú Báez
Endometriosis, the invisible illness suffered by women
Health

Endometriosis, the invisible illness suffered by women

Those affected by this condition in Malaga province have denounced "the neglect" they suffer from the health service and demand more investment in research

Matías Stuber

Malaga

Friday, 3 May 2024, 10:58

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It is as if the illness has stolen her youth. Soledad Domenech, who is now 42, still remembers when she writhed in pain during her adolescence. "I was first admitted to hospital when I was 16," she explains. Menstruation is accompanied by pain. In her case, they said, she had the misfortune of belonging to women who suffer from episodes of acute pain. That's it. Nothing else. The only solution they gave her to alleviate it was to continuously take contraceptives. At 27, unable to conceive, she found out the real reason for her pain. The doctors finally put a name to her torment: endometriosis. For Soledad, it was already too late. Her cysts were so developed that some unsuccessful surgeries later, they ended up removing her ovaries.

The illness was able to progress because no professional was able to diagnose it. It's another characteristic of endometriosis. There's the pain, but there's also the invisibility. On average, in Andalucía, it can take between six and seven years for endometriosis to be detected. Around 400,000 women are affected in the province, with 84,000 cases according to the Asociación de Afectadas de Endometriosis (ADAEC).

Many aspects of this illness are still unknown. Domenech is convinced that if it also affected men, much more progress would have been made in treatments and potential cures.

In endometriosis, the mucous tissue which usually forms the lining of the womb settles outside the uterus. It can grow on the peritoneum, the fallopian tube, the intestine or any other part of the body. This creates what are known as endometriosis lesions, which act like the uterus itself. With the menstrual cycle, unlike in the uterus, these tissues do not drain properly, leading to accumulations of blood and the formation of cysts. The pain caused by these lesions is concentrated in the lower abdomen and can radiate to the back. Affected individuals cannot sit, sleep, or eat. Some report a stabbing pain during sexual intercourse.

Soledad's story, like that of many others, is also a tale of misunderstanding. "They tell us it's normal to feel pain, they even think you're exaggerating. I've had to take morphine just to be able to go to work," she exclaims. Additionally, menstruation continues to be a big taboo topic. With a bit of exercise, a healthy diet, and a hot water bottle, it should be enough. But for Soledad and the many women who suffer in silence, it's not. They feel abandoned by the health service. "In 2018, we had a unit in Malaga that was functioning and another one in Seville to be able to care for the more than 70,000 affected by endometriosis in Andalucía. Today, we find that the Malaga unit is falling apart and the Seville unit is nothing more than an empty shell," she says. On Monday, several women protested in front of the Maternity Hospital in Malaga, demanding better care and more investment in research.

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