Lena Dunham Opens Up About Endometriosis & Here's What You Should Know About The Common Condition

On Monday, Lena Dunham announced she'll be taking a break due to endometriosis. The Girls’ actress and creator, author, and all around delightful badass, took to Facebook and Instagram to tell her fans she is taking time to focus on her health. Dunham suffers from endometriosis, and the chronic condition that affects one in 10 women has taken its toll on her. So it’s time for Dunham to step out of the spotlight for a bit.

With the new season of Girls set to premiere on February 21, it’s sort of bad timing for Dunham to be so sick. During her break, she won’t just not be working, but she’ll be leaving the press for the new season up to the other actresses. But considering the fact that endometriosis is a painful condition in which the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, it makes sense that a woman who is seemingly always on-the-go would take a break. However, as Dunham pointed out in her post, “So many women with this disease literally don't have the option of time off and I won't take it for granted.”

Although Dunham’s announcement was more about her break than anything, in addressing the fact that she has endometriosis is bringing to light something that affects at least five million women in the United States alone. She’s drawing attention to a very painful condition that some women may not even know they have.

If you’ve never heard of endometriosis or are unfamiliar with it, then listen up. Here are 10 things to know about it.

1. One In 10 Women Have It

As Dunham said in her post, one in 10 women suffer from endometriosis. That’s five million women in the United States and 176 million women worldwide.

2. It’s Most Common In Women In Their 30s And 40s

Although some women are diagnosed younger – Dunham herself is 29 – the majority of women who have it are in their 30s and 40s. However, endometriosis has been found in girls as young as 15.

3. Its Major Symptom Is Chronic Pain

What makes endometriosis so unbearable is the pain which, for some women, is constant. While the pain is usually during menstruation, it can cause back pain, pain in the intestines, and even make it difficult to go to the bathroom.

4. It Can Negatively Affect Your Sex Life

Along with the pain that can be pretty consistent, endometriosis also causes pain during and after sex. According to the U.S. Office of Women’s Health, the pain isn’t so much at the entrance of the vagina during sex, but a “deep” pain within the lower abdomen.

5. It Causes Pretty Brutal Periods

Because periods aren't aggravating enough, those with endometriosis endure not just their chronic pain that increases during menstruation, but periods that are longer and heavier, plus bleeding in between periods ― something that, in addition to pain, can be a sign that you should get to your doctor and see if you have it.

6. It Can Create Problems In Trying To Get Pregnant

If you’re hoping to get pregnant and you have endometriosis, it can be hard. In fact, 30 to 40 percent of women with endometriosis are actually infertile.

According to the U.S. Office of Women’s Heath, doctors will usually prescribe a gonadotropin-releasing hormone to women trying to get pregnant. The hormone creates a temporary menopause in which endometriosis growth is temporarily stopped, so once the medicine is no longer taken and your period returns, it’s easier to get pregnant. However, surgery, in severe cases, may be necessary.

7. Doctors Are Unsure Of What Causes Endometriosis

While doctors think it might be hereditary, as it does appear to run in families, or possibly because of hormones or weaken immune systems, what they are pretty sure of is that endometriosis is due to retrograde menstrual flow. What this means is that tissue falls into the fallopian tubes and gets into other parts of the body where it shouldn’t during menstruation. Again, though, this is the most likely cause, but still not a definite.

8. Endometriosis Has No Cure

At present, there is no cure for endometriosis. Both hormonal birth control and other medication can be prescribed to limit the pain and bleeding, but it’s not a permanent solution. Surgery can be an option, in which lesions and scar tissue are removed, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t come back.

Menopause can help with symptoms of endometriosis, because estrogen production begins to slow down, but for those women who take hormonal therapy through menopause, symptoms can persist.

9. Keeping Your Estrogen Levels Low Can Limit Your Chances Of Getting It

While you may not be able to prevent endometriosis, you can make steps to limit your chances of getting it. Avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine, which tend to raise estrogen levels, is a good start. Also, keeping your body fat percentage in a healthy range, as well as sticking to hormonal birth control option can help, too.

10. Endometriosis Is Linked To Other Physical And Mental Ailments

A 2011 study found that endometriosis can greatly interfere with women’s productivity because it causes not just pain and bleeding, but extensive fatigue, fibromyalgia, allergies, and autoimmune diseases, like MS and lupus. From a mental standpoint, these health conditions can take a toll, too. Endometriosis has also been linked to certain cancers, like breast and ovarian.

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