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Endometriosis: ancient disease, ancient treatment




Endometriosis is a whole-body disease
Even the ancients knew this.Back pain? Check. Bladder pain? Check. Vomiting, diarrhea, swellings throughout the body? Check. – These were just a few of the whole-body symptoms described more than 2,500 years ago by Hippocratic physicians who described a debilitating endometriosis-like disease they called “strangulation of the womb.” Similar observations were made throughout the pre-modern ages, including by 17th century physicians, Thomas Sydenham who described an endometriosis-like disease (called hysteria in his time) which caused “hysterical lumps…throughout the body”, “pain in the bladder”, vomiting, diarrhea, and “back pain as the disorder’s most reliable diagnostic feature.”  These and other unexpected findings were uncovered for the first time in Drs. Nezhat’shistory of endometriosis article, ‘Endometriosis: ancient disease, ancient treatments.’

Despite centuries of medical literature like this, which describes an endometriosis-like disease causing whole-body symptoms, flash forward to modern times and you find that only a few specialists like Dr. Nezhat recognize that endometriosis can affect the entire body. It seems to be a clear-cut case of “what the mind doesn’t know, the eye doesn’t see.” To help bring back understandings that even the ancients knew, we’ll continue our EndoMarch-World Endometriosis Day awareness work so that, one day, endometriosis will finally be widely recognized (again) as a whole-body disease, much like that of diabetes and other chronic diseases that can affect multiple organs and systems.

Read below for more on what the ancients had to say about an endometriosis-like disease that was renamed countless times over the centuries – strangulation of the womb,furor uterinus, catamenialhemotocyles, hysteria – but whose constellation of symptoms remained essentially same for more than 4,000 years.

The medical history article called ‘Endometriosis: Ancient Disease, Ancient Treatments’, by Drs. Camran, Farr and Ceana Nezhat et al, was actually the catalyst for the EndoMarch. It was the first article published in a peer-reviewed journal to uncover evidence that many cases of so-called hysteria, the now discredited psychological disorder of lore, may well have been endometriosis all along. Several other disease profiles from pre-modern times were also identified for the first time as sharing striking similarities with endometriosis symptoms, including the so-called disease of virgins, love sickness, furor uterinus (uterine fury), strangulation of the womb, suffocation of the womb, catamenial hematoceles, and many more. The article even found that the retrograde menstruation hypothesis (aka, Sampson’s Theory), once the darling theory of the 20th century, was nothing new: As early as 1697, Dutch Anatomist Ruysch (and others before him) proposed it as a possible cause of a mysterious endometriosis-like disease he was studying at the time.

These and other fascinating details can be found in the following summary of the article:

Demons, witches, madhouses, and leeches
Drs Camran, Farr and Ceana Nezhat’s recent medical review of history dating back nearly 4,000 years has found evidence of women with endometriosis-like symptoms being subjected to ghastly treatments involving leeches, straight-jackets, bloodletting, caustic chemical douches, genital mutilation, being hung upside down, surgical fatalities, and even accused of demonic possession and killed – all because their crippling yet invisible pain was so misunderstood by medicine and society alike.

Mad, immoral, or imagining it all
Another surprising finding is that it seems we have gone backward in terms of treating chronic pelvic pain. Nearly 2,500 years ago the Hippocratic doctors recognized chronic pelvic pain in both women and teenage girls as an organic disorder deserving of compassionate treatment. Yet, by the Middle Ages women with chronic pelvic pain were accused of being mad, immoral, or imagining it all. And, teenage girls were viewed as simply misbehaving cranks. Sound familiar? So-called “bad behaviors” like reading too many books, eating too much, exercising too little, or expressing sexuality were presumed as causes of their pain. They were ridiculed in literature by the likes of Shakespeare and were accused of faking their symptoms in order to malinger, manipulate, or shirk work.

Freud was wrong; the pain was real
Even prominent thinkers like Freud began subscribing to some of these myths, necessitating the invention of imaginary illnesses like hysteria. In fact, one of the paper’s most significant findings was that hysteria, the now discredited mystery disorder presumed for centuries to be psychological in origin, was most likely endometriosis in the majority of cases. In other words, Freud was wrong; the pain was real. The authors found that this centuries-old notion linking chronic pelvic pain to mental illness exerted tremendous influence on attitudes about women with endometriosis in modern times, contributing to diagnostic delays and chronic indifference to their pain for most of the 20th century.

Most colossal mass misdiagnosis in human history
As Drs Camran, Farr and Ceana Nezhat noted, such mistreatment constitutes one of the most colossal mass misdiagnoses in human history, one that over the centuries has subjected women to murder, madhouses, and lives of unremitting physical, social, and psychological pain. Faced with such injustices, historical records demonstrate that women with endometriosis have been contemplating or committing suicide for centuries.

After 4000 years, little progress
Women have truly paid a staggering price for this appalling indifference, for at least 4,000 years and counting. It is in part because of this shameful legacy that even today endometriosis is, for the most part, still an enigma, and treatments have remained essentially the same for centuries, with only minor variations. By documenting the fact that such mistreatment has been going on for thousands of years, Drs Camran, Farr and Ceana Nezhat and their team hope this research will serve as a wake-up call. Clearly, something has to change; something must be done to end this centuries-long saga of unconscionable inaction. As Drs Nezhat conclude:

The clock is definitely ticking, as we know millions of women still live lives awash in anguish, just as they did thousands of years ago and just as they will centuries from now unless we steer ourselves faster toward the long-elusive cure. Four thousand years is long enough; the time has come to end the empire of endometriosis.”

Click HERE to read the full article (15 MB)

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Doctor Camran Nezhat is one of the world’s best known endometriosis excision experts.