Undiagnosed disease means women in UAE are suffering in silence, say doctors

Dr Naglaa Rizk, a consultant gynaecologist at Al Zahra Hospital, Dubai, said once women recognise the symptoms they can then get help to avoid complications.

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DUBAI // A lack of knowledge about a disease that can cause infertility in women means only about 100,000 are being treated in the UAE, while many more are thought to be suffering in silence, doctors have warned.

Specialists from across the Arabian Gulf have met to discuss a campaign to raise awareness of endometriosis. The disease is the biggest cause of infertility in women and affects 176 million worldwide.

Although there is no known cure, hormonal treatments such as the oral contraceptive pill can help.

It is estimated up to 10 per cent of women in the UAE experience the condition during their reproductive years, but just 100,000 have been diagnosed.

By comparison, 2 million women were found to be sufferers in both Egypt and Britain.

The disease occurs when hormones during the menstrual cycle cause tissue from the uterus to grow outside the womb.

Dr Naglaa Rizk, a consultant gynaecologist at Al Zahra Hospital, Dubai, said once women recognise the symptoms they can then get help to avoid complications.

“We would like to show the benefits of the use of oral family planning methods to alleviate some of the issues that women face and allow them to live a healthy, productive life,” she said.

“Painful menstruation could be a sign of endometriosis. We need to find out what is causing the long-term pain before we can make a full diagnosis.

“There are multiple theories of the cause, but there are many cases in the Middle East, possibly due to genetics.”

During the awareness drive, women will be offered information on endometriosis at Latifa Hospital in Dubai, Al Qassimi in Sharjah, Corniche in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Tawam and private hospitals including Medcare, Al Zahra, Saudi German Hospital in Dubai, Health Plus in Abu Dhabi and Al Noor.

Cultural issues could be preventing women from asking for help, with some preferring to suffer in silence.

Dr Sony Singh, vice chairman at the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Ottawa Hospital in Canada, said it is important to educate doctors and patients.

“If menstrual pain is bad enough for a young girl to miss school or work, it is a problem. Ten years of pain is not normal, yet some women ignore it and live with it. It is a very personal issue.”

Some women are reluctant to talk to their GP and must be encouraged to do so, he said.

While use of the pill can reduce the risk, doctors have said in extreme cases it can cause blood clots, deep-vein thrombosis, heart attacks and strokes.

Women who are smokers, and over 35, are said to be particularly vulnerable, as are those with a history of breast cancer.

A daily prescription of the pill contains a combination of hormones that prevent pregnancy, with those who take the medication having up to a 60 per cent less chance of developing endometriosis, up to 80 per cent less risk from ovarian cancer and up to a 40 per cent less chance of contracting colorectal cancer.

Dr Lee Shulman, head of clinical genetics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago, warned against mixed messages discouraging women from taking the pill.

“We usually notice a general tendency to focus on the risk factors associated with oral pills, without background knowledge and low awareness of the benefits,” he said.

“We can target that with the benefits of contraception and the reduction in cancer risk.”

nwebster@thenational.ae