DETROIT - New research on endometriosis suggests some women might be at a higher risk for the disease because of their childhood experiences.
The study adds to the growing body of evidence linking adverse childhood experiences with poor health outcomes. But the exact mechanisms aren't full understood.
When a child endures physical or sexual abuse, it can put into motion changes in the body, increasing the risk for long-term health problems, experts said. Migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, and high blood pressure are among the possible risks.
A nearly 30-year analysis of 60,000 women now adds a debilitating pelvic disease to the list: endometriosis.
"Endometriosis is a disease where the tissue that's usually growing in the uterus in fact implants and grows in other places in the body," Michigan State University ScD Stacey Missmer said.
The disease is extremely painful and can cause infertility. Researchers found a history of abuse can increase the risk for endometriosis by up to 79 percent.
Experts think early-life trauma might create a heightened state of stress in the body, translating into chronic inflammation. The finding doesn't mean most women with endometriosis have a history of abuse.
"Physical and sexual abuse is a real public health issue that is far too common and needs to be addressed," Missmer said.
Pediatricians can help by speaking frankly and openly with teenage girls about cramping and pelvic pain and getting them the help they need.
"If the standard treatments, which are generally nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents like ibuprofen -- sometimes we have to go to something like the birth control pill," said MD Elizabeth Alderman, of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Particularly if those don't work, I start suspecting things like endometriosis."
It takes an average of seven years after symptoms begin for women to be diagnosed with endometriosis, and in many cases, it's diagnosed incidentally without pain being present. In this study, when it was associated with abuse, it was more likely to present with pain.
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