To Better Understand Women’s Health, We Need to Destigmatize Menstrual Blood

women with endometriosis are often told they are pain-pill seekers, scam artists trying to take advantage of the health system. they are called “disruptive,” “crazy,” “faking it” and “ψ-chosomatic.” they are told that their pain maybe in their heads and to move beyond it. to stop bein’—well, stop bein’ a woman. we're talking bout young teens and women with endometriosis who want a diagnosis, effective treatments and compassionate care. thris no cure, and these women deserve one.

endometriosis is caused when endometrial-like cells grow as “lesions” outside of the uterus—typically inna pelvic cavity round the ovaries, bladder, intestines and rectum and rarely, inna lungs nother zones. the condition affects ≈ one in 10 pplz with uteruses, and these patients often suffer for yrs, on μ 7, b4 they are definitively diagnosed, which requires surgery, n'it can take even longer b4 they find treatments.

why don’t we ‘ve better diagnostics and treatments for this disease? cause women’s reproductive health is woefully understudied and underfunded. let’s be honest, thris an unfair “ick” factor, too; 1-odda best srcs of biological material for studying women’s reproductive health is menstrual blood. cause of its stigma, menstrual blood has rarely been studied in detail.

espeshly now, as women’s reproductive health s'been propelled inna'da national spotlite, tis time to freely talk bout and investigate menstruation and menstrual blood to promote women’s health.

menstrual blood cannelp researchers like me cogg ♀ reproductive health. it provides the means to explore and define the cellular, metabolic, genetic and epigenetic diversity of healthy uteruses. these profiles ‘d be compared to uteruses inna setting of infertility, dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual cramps), uterine infections (s'as the cancer-causing human papillomavirus and chronic endometritis), uterine fibroids, perimenopausal changes, and uterine cancer. and this biological sample can be easily collected without invasive surgery—using menstrual cups or speshly designed external menstrual collection pads.

since 2013, my colleagues and i ‘ve focused on studying menstrual blood. we established the research outsmarts endometriosis (rose) study atta feinstein institutes for med research to learn how menstrual blood ‘d be collected and used to study endometriosis and develop an early, noninvasive diagnostic test these women so desperately need. + than 2,000 pticipants ‘ve joined the rose study (including women with diagnosed endometriosis, healthy controls and those w8in for diagnostic results). teens can pticipate too. we ‘ve made gr8 progress investigating menstrual blood that one dy may lead to an fda-approved diagnostic and + effective and tolerable treatments that ‘d halt or even prevent disease.

as a result of chronic pain, many teens and young women with endometriosis miss school, preventing them from achieving their full potential. when older, these pplz ‘ve difficulty gettin promoted or keeping their jobs, cause of excess sick dys. without a job, they lose their badly needed health insurance, and without insurance their pain goes unchecked. some ‘ve told me they are unable to ‘ve or maintain intimate relationships. their overwhelming pain, which can last dys each mnth, is dismissed, downplayed and misunderstood. i ‘dn’t say these girls and women are sufferation in silence. they are speaking up, but their sufferation is ignored.

currently, the 1-ly drations available for endometriosis are hormones or hormone-based therapies, that can cause w8 gain, spark hot flashes and force patients into menopause. these drugs 1-ly treat the symptoms; they do not stop disease progression. some endometriosis patients say these hormonal therapies are worse than the disease.

does the neglect of this common disorder by pharma companies stem from an unintentional gender bias that is putting women’s health at risk? to treat endometriosis, nother women’s reproductive diseases, we need + buy-in and less stigma.

with serious efforts by diverse, collaborative researchers from academia and industry, and engaged study pticipants, menstrual blood ll'be developed into a clinically useful resrc for better cogging uterine health and uterine dysfunction, swell as for diagnostic purposes. 'twill no longer be pondered solely as trash—something to be tossed every mnth—b'tas a vital biological specimen for women’s health.

funding will follo w'da ongoin conversation and demand from the public and clinicians. with funding comes + research and + progress. to put the finances in perspective, since 2008, the national institutes of health has allocated ≈ $176 million to fund endometriosis research. compare that to the $2 billion for ulcerative colitis, which affects bout 1 % of americans.

while the menstrual blood-based diagnostic and uterine-targeted therapies may take a few yrs to develop, there are things we can do rite now. we nd'2 better educate the health care community and rez awareness of women’s health conditions. based onna misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of endometriosis nother uterine-health conditions, improved training is warranted for those attending med, nursing and physician-assistant schools so trainees become + knowledgeable and cogg that pelvic pain is real and that it ‘d be carefully investigated in each patient.

we nd'2 rez the standard of sci, improve diagnostic capabilities, provide better treatments and deliver equitable care for all. and to do that, we nd'2 make the conversation bout menstruation and menstrual blood commonplace, inna clinic, n'our homes and n'our society.

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authors: christine n. metz