We often think of endometriosis as a disease that affects reproductive-aged women. This is probably because the main worry with endometriosis (other than bothersome pain) is infertility. In reality, most of the signs and symptoms of endometriosis start much earlier in life, when these women are actually little girls.
It makes sense then, that researchers have finally started delving into that little explored corner of the puzzle, looking for clues as to why some girls are affected and others are not. This week, in fact, researchers from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia claim to have found some hints.
Strong period pain and childhood obesity, they say, might be precursors to endometriosis, a disease that affects anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of women. In the study's press release, researchers warn that an overweight 10-year old has double the risk of developing endometriosis later in her life. It's yet another concern about the rapidly growing trend of childhood obesity in the United States.
The study, which compared over 500 women with and without endometriosis, investigated early menstrual characteristics before the onset of disease. They also found that starting your period at a later age (over 14) was associated with decreased risk.
What's most surprising about this study is that previous research suggests almost the opposite. Recent studies from both the European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the International Journal of Gynecology Obstetrics suggest that women with endometriosis actually tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than women without the disease.
The combination of findings seem to suggest that if you're overweight as a kid but not as an adult, you might be in the target population.
Of course, not much is known in the way of why or how endometriosis strikes. There are still no known causes or cures, or even definitive treatments for this remarkably common disease. This is because treating endometriosis can be just as tricky as diagnosing it--endometriosis is hidden, unpredictable, and often elusive. Thankfully, hormone therapy and surgery are solid management options, and new research to teach us about possible preventative measures is constantly evolving.
Simone Ferrero, et al. Body mass index in endometriosis. European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. Volume 121, Issue 1, Pages 94-98 (1 July 2005)
Kyong Wook Yi, et al. Association of body mass index with severity of endometriosis in Korean women. International Journal of Gynecology Obstetrics. Volume 105, Issue 1, Pages 39-42 (April 2009)