Lena Dunham Bravely Creating Awareness of Endometriosis

DunhamPublic discussions on women’s reproductive system usually focus on pregnancy, whether prevention, fertility issues and the nine-month progression, However, Lena Dunham opened up on Monday about her health issues caused by endometriosis, bravely creating more awareness of how the chronic condition is debilitating for her and many other women.

The 29-year-old star shed light on endometriosis in her announcement that she will not be doing a media blitz to promote the new season of Girls, her HBO television show that returns for its fifth season this month. On Facebook, she noted, “I have endometriosis, a chronic condition that affects approximately 1 in 10 women’s reproductive health,” which she had previously written about in her Lenny newsletter. She went on to explain, “I am currently going through a rough patch with the illness and my body (along with my amazing doctors) let me know, in no uncertain terms, that it’s time to rest.”

Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus on other areas. Most often, the tissue is on the outside of the uterus, fallopian tubes and/or ovaries. It can also be on other body parts. The misplaced endometrial tissue causes swelling and potential problems, such as blocked fallopian tubes and intestinal or bladder problems.

Dunham reported that she has experienced symptoms since she got her first period. Since then, after countless doctor visits and painkillers, she had laparoscopic surgery, which is the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis and remove some of the excess tissue. As she wrote in Lenny, they “found ‘stage two disease’ all over my abdominal walls, bladder, liver, and appendix,” as well as a long-term chronic infection.

Many do not realize how painful and common endometriosis is. Estimates are that more than 5 million American women have it. Some do not have symptoms, whereas others have very painful menstrual cramps, chronic lower back pain, painful intercourse, longer or heavier periods, digestive problems and difficulty getting pregnant.

The actress-writer-producer acknowledges that she is lucky she is in a place in her career where she can stay home and rest. Dunham used to be afraid earlier in her career to take health breaks when she was in severe pain for fear of being perceived as weak. “So many women with this disease literally don’t have the option of time off and I won’t take it for granted,” she commented in her posting.

Experts are not sure what causes endometriosis. Theories being examined involve retrograde menstrual flow, genetic issues, hormones and surgery that should create scar tissue in the areas, such as from hysterectomy.

There is also no cure for the condition. As Dunham has attested, hormonal birth control and other medications can limit the pain and bleeding, but they do not present a permanent solution. Surgery like she had is a common option, but there is no guarantee that the tissue will not come back.

In going public about her condition and bravely creating more awareness of endometriosis, Lena Dunham proudly noted, “I am strong because of what I’ve dealt with.” She also has learned that, when her body is telling her to stop and rest, she has to listen. Dunham wrote, “I have no choice but to respect what (my body) tells me, to respect the strength of its voice and the truth of my own.”

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

Womenshealth.gov: Endometriosis
Lenny letter: The Sickest Girl
Entertainment Weekly: Lena Dunham opens up about endometriosis in Facebook post
CNN: Lena Dunham announces ‘rest’ due to endometriosis

Photo by David Shankbone — Creative Commons license