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How Did We Discover Endometriosis?

Endometriosis can be an exceptionally painful uterine condition and is believed to have been first reported almost 4,000 years ago.

Although it was discovered in 1860 by humanist physician Karl von Rokitansky, many symptoms such as infertility and ulcers in the uterus were reported in the Hippocratic Corpus, an Ancient Greek which explored symptoms of different disorders.

What has complicated historical diagnoses of endometriosis was that it was part of one of the biggest mass misdiagnoses in human history, with an uncalculatable human cost that is believed to be in the multi-millions.

Part of this was caused by these early writings that treated the uterus, not as an organ like any other in the human body, but one that more alive. This led to the belief by Hippocratic doctors that endometriosis and similar illnesses were caused by delayed childbirth.

This analogy, whilst ridiculous to a gynaecologist today given modern medical knowledge, would influence the treatment of endometriosis for thousands of years, particularly in the Middle Ages.

For reasons that have been lost to time, doctors in the Middle Ages believed that women suffering from endometriosis-like symptoms were either making it up, insane or immoral with no basis in any kind of evidence.

It would take until the 1940s for non-surgical interventions to be developed, typically in the form of high doses of estrogen used as part of a therapy to simulate pregnancy. This highlights how long the idea that endometriosis is connected to pregnancy lasted.

There is currently no cure, and treatments, both in terms of surgery and medication are focused on treating the pain caused by endometriosis and reducing the risk of infertility.