Every year, March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is a common and painful condition that affects 1 in 10 Australian women – but more awareness and research is needed. Symptoms vary and can impact fertility, with it often affecting the reproductive organs but also, in some cases, the bowel and bladder.
This month, Tidings is focusing in on endometriosis: why it happens, how it happens, the impact it has on women and society, and what we can do about it.
But often, the last thing that pops into your head when you hear the word "endometriosis" is the economic burden that it brings.
When you add up missing out on work, doctors appointments, over-the-counter medications, pain management, and all sorts of other things you can't even predict, endometriosis can be incredibly taxing on your bank account. Unfortunately, most people don't appreciate this unless they have an endometriosis diagnosis themselves.
Not only are there the costs of treatment to think about, but the economic stress of not being able to work on the days when you’re feeling rough can really add up.
According to recent research published in PLOS ONE, the average cost for a woman with endometriosis is $30,000 a year. And while that figure is shockingly high, only one fifth of this cost was due to the health sector - medications, doctors and hospital visits, transport costs and assisted reproductive technology costs.
Instead, the majority of the financial burden (80%) came from lost productivity as a result of the symptoms of endometriosis or chronic pelvic pain. Calling in sick, being unable to focus, having to take half-days so you can visit a specialist, and not being able to work properly had a significant burden on respondents wallets.
Research from 2017 found women with endometriosis experience productivity loss as pain increases, which is both obvious and understandable. With reports suggesting that reducing pain by even just 10-20 per cent could potentially save the economy billions of dollars each year, it's clearly an issue that affects everyone – not just those who have been diagnosed with endometriosis or who have chronic pelvic pain.
Perhaps the most interesting finding from the report is that the costs of endometriosis are largely due to pain. Women with endometriosis are likely to experience painful symptoms that can affect their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks and work. These symptoms include:
According to the report, the economic burden of experiencing these symptoms is at least as high as other chronic disease burdens such as diabetes, however it is still underfunded and underdiagnosed. For this reason, some women can go for up to 10 years without being correctly diagnosed or receiving treatment, which can cause their symptoms to worsen.
Women were also asked to rate their pain levels on a scale, and it comes as no surprise that those who had the most severe pain also had a 12-times greater loss of productivity.
Although there is no cure for endometriosis, medical treatment to reduce pain includes anti-inflammatories, oral contraceptive pills, and other hormonal treatments that can all harbour costs. This report published by PLOS ONE found that the average medical cost per patient with endometriosis was $ 2640 for total health costs.
Surgical treatments can also be expensive. Starting at $1,242 for endometriosis related surgery on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, it's easy to see why many women find themselves in the terrible position of having to choose between their bank account and their health. For many, the cost of having endometriosis is a stressful financial burden and one that can put women off getting an official diagnosis.
Living with endometriosis can be painful, awkward, and costly. Not only are their monetary costs involved, but the opportunity costs and the productivity costs can be sky high too.
The profile of endometriosis is always increasing, and it is only a good thing that more men and women understand the condition. That said, increased funding could see thousands of women have more accessible pain management available to them.
To learn more about how to manage endometriosis, take a look at our guide to endometriosis.