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Girl Smarts This woman is showing what it’s really like to have Endometriosis

One woman is hoping to help erase the stigma surrounding endometriosis and other reproductive issues.

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Endometriosis has been in the news lately thanks to celebrities like Lena Dunham and Padma Lakshmi who have been candid about suffering from the painful disorder.

Endometriosis happens when tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside of it and, as you can imagine, it's not fun. Now, one woman is hoping to help erase the stigma surrounding endometriosis and other reproductive issues.

Thessy Kouzoukas, a creative director and co-owner of fashion brand Sabo Skirt, posted side-by-side photos on Instagram recently that she says show what it’s really like to live with the disease. Thessy poses naked in both photos: In one, she has a very bloated stomach; in the second, her stomach is flat. “This is quite shocking to people. This is me. This is endometriosis,” she wrote in the post. “I never intended to share these photos hence why I'm naked, but my god I can't believe the amount of DM's [sic] I've received from girls who have endo too and feel alone.”

The photo on the left is of her stomach three weeks after she had a ruptured cyst, she said. The photo on the right is of her now, on a drug called Synarel that she says has stopped her hormone production and sent her into menopause at the age of 27.

“My upcoming trip to Greece along with this drug is in hopes to get me prepped and in the best condition both physically and mentally for an operation I'm receiving in late August,” she writes. “Endo is no joke. I'll be operated on for 7+ hours and hospitalized for a week.” Thessy then urges people to spread the word about endometriosis. “If you know anyone with bad period pain PLEASE tell them to get checked for this,” she says. “And to my girls with endo.. you're not alone.”

Thessy is right: About 5 million American women suffer from endometriosis, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Endometriosis can cause cysts and scar tissue to develop, and often causes severe pain, irregular periods, and very heavy periods for sufferers.

Thessy also wrote an essay for The Huffington Post about her experience with endometriosis, writing that she had terrible symptoms as a teenager but no one took her seriously. "When I first got my period as a young teenager, I got labeled 'lazy' when I couldn't participate in certain sports at school, or 'drama queen' when I would take days off school because I was doubled over in the shower trying desperately to find relief from abdominal pain," she wrote. "Why didn't they tell us that debilitating pain isn't normal?"

Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, says that endometriosis can develop in several places in a woman’s pelvic area, including her bowels. “It’s not fun and can cause a lot of pain and bloating,” she says. A drug like Synarel prevents an endometriosis sufferer from menstruating but, unfortunately, it impacts her fertility as well. “It’s like a chemical castration,” Greves says. Taking the drug will ensure a woman with endometriosis doesn't get her period, and that she won’t have symptoms elsewhere in her body.

Endometriosis is difficult and, like Thessy says, it’s no joke. If you suspect that you may have endometriosis, talk to your doctor. He or she should be able to recommend treatments that can help.

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