Endometriosis and its detrimental effects on women's working lives

Endometriosis and its detrimental effects on women’s working lives

endometriosis

Endometriosis is not a ‘career woman’s disease’, as it used to be known, but it certainly impacts the careers of working women.

In Australia, endometriosis affects at least one in 9 girls and women and the consequences are very real for those affected. Symptoms can include pain in the stomach, back and hip areas and also negatively affects one’s quality of life. 

A recent study from Finland has revealed that women with endometriosis took ten or more sick days compared to those without the condition. This study is the first to examine how older professionals are impacted by the condition. 

The study looked at 4,000 women in Finland over the period of two years, and also found that the participants with endometriosis claimed, on average, ten more disability days than women without the chronic menstrual health disorder. 

The study, however, failed to find any link between early retirement or unemployment and endometriosis. 

The authors of the paper revealed that according to their knowledge, their study was the “first general population-level study on the association between endometriosis and work ability,” and acknowledged that the research was conducted in a country with excellent welfare, healthcare and retirement systems. 

Across the world for many decades, numerous medical textbooks labelled endometriosis a ‘career woman’s disease’, calling it a condition which only Type-A women who put off marriage and pregnancy to pursue a career suffered from. 

Historically, patients were forced to choose between two solutions: either get pregnant or get a hysterectomy. 

Thankfully, these myths have been thoroughly debunked, and new research has revealed that for many women, their careers are being affected by the condition. 

In 2011, an analysis of over 1400 women published in “Fertility and Sterility” found that the women suffering from endometriosis lost an average of 10.8 hours of work per week due to the severity of their symptoms, preventing them from working. 

Two years later, a U.S study found that patients with endometriosis experienced significantly more sick days each year than those without. 

Despite being well enough to attend work, their symptoms – including pain and fatigue, made it much harder for them to work efficiently. 

The delays experienced by women in getting diagnosed with endometriosis also increased the likelihood for their profession to suffer longterm. 

A longitudinal study published last year also found that people with endometriosis received a lower yearly salary and slower salary growth. 

Women with endometriosis in countries with greater social welfare, including Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, still say they are less able to work in the profession they want to, due to the chronic pain and fatigue they experience. 

“Thus,” the authors admit, “women still employed at a late fertile age, after hardships related to endometriosis, might have the mildest phenotypes of the disease or be otherwise healthy, which might underestimate the actual effects of endometriosis.”

The study, which was published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, concludes that further research is needed to quantify the effects of this common disease.

In April, the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne launched three new collaborative research projects as part of a new program to improve outcomes for people with endometriosis. 

Professor Peter Rogers, director of research at the Royal Women’s Hospital, is leading the program, and believes the collaborative projects will bring new treatments for those suffering with persistent pelvic pain as well as predict the most effective treatment for endometriosis.

“The impacts of endometriosis can be life-changing,” Professor Rogers said. “On top of the pain which can be debilitating, fatigue, mental health issues and infertility can occur – all of which can affect relationships and financial stability.” 

“There are thousands of people out there who feel their pain is not understood and their lives are completely dictated by this condition. We know, with research, we can improve outcomes for people with endometriosis and persistent pelvic pain.”

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