B.C. Women’s Hospital launches school endometriosis pilot in New West

Endometriosis affects one in 10 young women and can cause debilitating menstrual cramps.

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B.C. Women’s Hospital has launched a school-based endometriosis program as part of the curriculum at New Westminster Secondary.

The program, which started last week, is the first of its kind in Canada and will begin as a six-class pilot series. It is based on a school course developed by Endometriosis New Zealand, which showed positive results with early detection and treatment.

Endometriosis is a common condition that affects one in 10 women of reproductive age. The problem is there is usually a delay of about eight years in getting treated, said Dr. Catherine Allaire, medical director of the B.C. Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis at B.C. Women’s Hospital.

A lot of people who suffer from endometriosis start having symptoms in their teenage years, with the most common symptom being severe or debilitating menstrual cramps.

“A lot of stories from women that we hear are that those symptoms are dismissed either because of taboos around discussing menstruation or sometimes their pain is dismissed by their family members, maybe their mothers said it was normal because they experienced it as well,” she said.

Symptoms have also been dismissed by some health care providers who told the young women that severe pain with menstruation is normal, she added.

The idea with the pilot program is to educate all teenagers about what is normal and to decrease the myths and taboos around menstruation.

The project is funded by a grant from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the reason B.C. Women’s chose New Westminster was because the school district was the first to introduce free menstrual products in schools.

“So we thought this is a progressive school board that is open and willing to discuss menstruation and so we approached them as a partner in this project and they were very enthusiastic,” said Allaire.

The one-hour interactive session focuses on different topics and provides education for young people to track their symptoms and empower them to seek help.

Endometriosis, a condition where endometrial cells, which line the inside of the uterus, grow on other pelvic organs, such as the ovaries or Fallopian tubes. These cells wind up in the pelvic cavity and respond to hormones in a similar way to endometrial cells and cause inflammation and pain, potentially scar tissue, cysts, and infertility, all of which can have serious impacts on a person’s quality of life.

“It can have devastating pain symptoms which can affect a woman’s ability to function, and to reach their full potential, especially when if it starts in the teenage years,” said Allaire.

“We are advocating for early recognition and a clinical diagnosis, and then early treatment of symptoms.”

Research shows that young people with symptoms of endometriosis are likely to miss one or more days of school per month because of pain and lose 10 hours of productivity per week as adults, according to B.C. Women’s Hospital.


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