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Madeleine Rudin, 66, of Greenwich, Connecticut, started having “horrendous” stomach cramps in her 20s that left her bloated and in pain for days at a time. The symptoms continued — for decades — as doctors treated her, unsuccessfully, for issues such as irritable bowel syndrome or a spastic colon. Never knowing how she might feel each morning “made my world very, very small,” she says.
At age 63 Rudin finally received the correct diagnosis: endometriosis, a painful inflammatory disorder that causes tissue cells normally lining the uterus to grow outside it.
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A few months later, her surgeon excised 28 lesions on her bowel, uterus and the membrane covering her abdominal organs. After her recovery, Rudin says that living without pain changed her life, allowing her the freedom of simple pleasures like making social plans, and keeping them.
While Rudin's diagnosis was particularly long in coming, it generally takes from seven to 10 years for a woman to be accurately diagnosed with endometriosis, says Jessica Shepherd, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. According to recent research, Rudin would be one of roughly 5 percent of women in whom the condition endures past reproductive age. About 1 in 10 women overall have the disorder.
"We're just beginning to understand endometriosis, in part, because many women have not been definitively diagnosed,” says Christine Metz, professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, who notes that as in Rudin's case, it's often mistaken for bowel problems and other digestive disorders.