If you follow Lena Dunham or anything she does, chances are you know that she's been struggling with endometriosis for years. The condition occurs when tissue that normally lines the uterus extends to other places such as the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and tissue lining the pelvis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dunham shared some awesome news in her most recent Lenny Letter yesterday. After having her fifth surgery for the condition this year, she's officially "disease-free." Yay! Sooo...what exactly does that mean?
First, it's important to understand the way endometriosis is treated. "Most of the time, treatment regimens are aimed at reducing pain with NSAIDs," says Angela Jones, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn. "Hormonal therapies like birth control pills can also be used to treat pain as well as control the growth and suppress the spread of endometrial tissue." When the growth and spread of this tissue decreases, it's possible for it to disappear completely, thus, why Lena is able to call herself "disease free." However, In order to truly cure endometriosis, you'd "have to undergo a complete hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries and tubes," to prevent it from coming back, she says. "The ovaries are what's responsible for the hormones that stimulate periods, and hence, stimulate endometrial tissue, its growth, and all the symptoms associated with it." Jones says that this is generally considered a last resort since there are other minor surgeries where excess tissue can be removed, and many women can control their symptoms with hormonal birth control. (BTW, here's how to find the best birth control for you.)
While awareness of "endo" has been on the rise lately, partly because celebs like Julianne Hough, Halsey, and Daisy Ridley have been speaking out, the condition actually is more common than you might think. "Endometriosis is estimated to be present in 15 percent of reproductive-aged women, and most are asymptomatic," says Daniel Shapiro, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Prelude Fertility. That means many women might not even know they have it. The struggle to simply get a diagnosis can be the biggest challenge for some women. The cause of the relentless symptoms can be tricky to identify.
"Most women will dismiss the symptoms as being 'normal,' or just 'things that women go through,'" says Jones. The most common complaint? Painful periods. "I'm not talking run-of-the-mill cramps," says Jones. "We're talking incapacitating pain that oftentimes is not relieved with the general measure of taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve, Motrin, and ibuprofen." Other signs can include pain during intercourse, pain with urination or bowel movements, and issues with getting pregnant." Jones says that "some women may also experience things such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating, which can be confused with other common problems such as irritable bowel syndrome." So as you can see, it's not always easy to pinpoint the source of pain and discomfort when it's actually endometriosis causing it.
Lena is lucky to have found a team of doctors who were able to accurately diagnose her and see her through treatment. While we can't say for sure, it seems that in Lena's case, her disease-free status means she doesn't currently have any patches of endometrial tissue outside of her uterus. It's possible that it could grow back, but she's in the clear for now, which is definitely something to celebrate.