Endometriosis is a common chronic inflammatory condition that affects an estimated one in ten people assigned female at birth. The condition causes tissue similar to the lining of the uterus to grow elsewhere – including on the ovaries, intestines, bladder and bowels. Symptoms can affect the whole body, but often include severe pelvic pain, painful periods, pain during sex, infertility and fatigue.
Sufferers of the condition wait between eight to 12 years on average for a diagnosis. Yet for black women, this picture is even worse – with research showing they’re 50% less likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis compared to white women.
There are a number of reasons for why this is the case – including barriers to gynaecological care and systemic racism in the medical field. But this means that black women may suffer for many more years as a result without a proper diagnosis or treatment.
The poorer care that black women receive today for conditions such as endometriosis may actually be linked back to the very beginnings of the field of gynaecology, which has a legacy of racism and violent exploitation of black women’s bodies.
For example, J Marion Sims, the 19th-century American doctor who invented the speculum, performed numerous experimental surgeries without anaesthetics on enslaved women who could not consent throughout his career. The reason Sims chose not to use anaesthetic was, in part, because he believed black people had higher pain thresholds.
The legacy of this racist myth still persists today. In the US, one study found white medical students and doctors still believe that black patients are biologically less sensitive to pain compared to white patients. And, in the UK, a survey found that most black people have experienced prejudice from healthcare professionals when it came to care – including practitioners dismissing their pain.
Read the full article on The Conversation website co- authored by Danielle Perro (our department's Postdoctoral Researcher) and Annalise Weckesser from Birmingham City University and Veronique Griffith from the University of Manchester.