Endometriosis has affected women for millennia, its symptoms sometimes causing them to fall to the ground and writhe with pain. In this disease, tissue that is similar to uterine lining grows outside of the uterus, building up and then bleeding with every menstrual cycle.
Besides extreme pain, endometriosis can cause infertility, entanglements among various abdominal organs, and many other problems. This perplexing illness can only be definitively diagnosed surgically. Because such approaches were not practical until relatively recently, doctors and scientists have alternately understood and misunderstood endometriosis over the course of history. While the ancient Greeks and Romans had an incomplete but generally-correct understanding of the disorder, that knowledge was lost in the Middle Ages, when suffering women were often blamed and labeled as witches, lascivious, hysterical, deranged, or possessed by demons. The long and fascinating story has just been captured by Gynecological Surgeons Camran, Farr, and Ceana Nezhat, in their 62-page article, “Endometriosis: ancient disease, ancient treatments,” published online in Fertility and Sterility on November 1, and available in the journal’s print edition in December. Research for this work took Camran Nezhat, MD, and his brothers five years, including visits to major medical libraries throughout the US, perusal of newly-digitized medical literature from Google Books, and tracing of the historical record outside of medicine to arts and culture.