Avera Medical Minute: Patient shares story of living with endometriosis

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Endometriosis is a disease that only affects women and can't be cured. March serves as an awareness month for the disease.

Women's health and the menstrual cycle are things so many people have a hard time talking about though.

"I never wanted being a girl to be an excuse for not doing something, so I didn't want to be that person that's like oh I have my period. I can't go to work today. I always thought that was like kind of lame," Natasha said.

She sat through classes that so many of us sat through in school learning about the anatomy.

"They tell you, you might have some cramping, some pain, don't worry about it. So to me, everyone must kind of have this pain," she said.

Before Natasha became a radio host on Hot 104.7, she had a lot of pain throughout high school and college. In her mid-20s, she went in for her annual exam with Dr. Kimberlee McKay, who is a gynecologist with Avera.

"This ovary in context was almost up to Natasha's belly button. It was almost that big, and it was filling her whole pelvis," Dr. McKay said. "An ovary is normally the size of an almond, and we're talking about an ovary that was about the size filling the whole belly."

It turns out the pain Natasha was experiencing wasn't because of her period.

"Her symptoms were fitting really with the severity of her disease, and she ended up ultimately having that ovary removed," Dr. McKay said.

During surgery, doctors found she had a disease called endometriosis.

"I realized oh my gosh, all of these things are falling into place now. It totally makes sense," Natasha said.

"The normal endometrial tissue that lives inside the uterus and is shed every month, it somehow implants itself outside the uterus and ends up in the abdomen," Dr. McKay said. "The end result is that it can cause things like pain, infertility and bladder syndromes and things like that."

The symptoms of the disease can depend on the patient. Some don't experience any symptoms. Others experience what Dr. McKay mentioned.

"So endometriosis tends to cause quite debilitating pain and not just for the duration of the period but actually in the couple of weeks leading up to the menstrual cycle as well," she said.

It's something women live with for the rest of their life.

"The primary way that we treat endometriosis initially is things like birth control pills; things that will suppress the ovaries ability to feed that endometrial tissue and cause pain," Dr. McKay said. "Or IUD's are another way of treating this to keep this from progressing. Ultimately in severe cases, surgery is what ends up happening."

Various treatments and an IUD have helped manage the pain for Natasha after she just kept dismissing it.

"And I think a lot of women feel that way like they don't want to admit something is wrong or like I did, everyone has this. It can't be that bad," she said.

But she hopes sharing her story and talking about endometriosis will help women be more open. Dr. McKay also said getting pregnant with this disease can be difficult.