Star Wars star urges women to listen to their bodies

British actress Daisy Ridley, 23, took the world by storm when she gave a stellar performance in the “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” As Rey, she was the first female lead ever in a “Star Wars” movie.

Though Ridley is best known for her performance in “The Force Awakens,” she also gained attention recently when she spoke candidly about her diagnosis with endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.

“At 15 I was diagnosed with endometriosis. One laparoscopy, many consultations and 8 years down the line, pain was back (more mild this time!) and my skin was THE WORST,” Ridley wrote in a Facebook post. “I’ve tried everything: products, antibiotics, more products, more antibiotics and all that did was left my body in a bit of a mess. Finally found out I have polycystic ovaries and that’s why it’s bad.”

In the more than 3,000 comments on her post, her followers talked about their own struggles with endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome and praised her for speaking up. Some users thanked Ridley for giving them the courage to speak to their doctors about symptoms they were too embarrassed to bring up.

In Ridley’s Facebook message, she urges everyone to go to the doctor if something doesn’t feel right. “My point is, to any of you who are suffering with anything, go to a doctor; pay for a specialist; get your hormones tested, get allergy testing; keep on top of how your body is feeling…” she wrote. “From your head to the tips of your toes we only have one body, let us all make sure ours our working in tip top condition, and take help if it’s needed.”

This is an important message for women to hear, says Dr. Rashida Randeree, OB/GYN at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center. Gynecological health isn’t always the easiest or most comfortable topic of conversation, but it’s important to be open and honest with your care team.

Keep reading below to learn more about endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome and what symptoms to watch for, and don’t be afraid to ask your OB/GYN about them.

Endometriosis

What is it?

Endometriosis is disease where the endometrial tissue that normally lines the inside of a uterus grows on the outside. During a woman’s cycle, endometrial tissue normally thickens, breaks down and flows out of the body. With endometriosis, the tissue acts as it normally would. However, because it’s on the outside of the uterus, it causes pain.

Causes

The cause is not entirely clear. But there are some theories.

  • Genetics
  • Altered immune system
  • Endometrial cells may travel back through the fallopian tubes and into the stomach

“In some cases, patients have what is called retrograde menstruation,” Dr. Randeree said. “So, instead of blood flowing from the uterus out of your body, it flows through your fallopian tubes and into your abdominal cavity. This is the major cause of chronic pelvic pain.”

Symptoms

Common symptoms may include:

  • Extreme pelvic pain during a menstrual cycle
  • Excessive bleeding during or between a menstrual cycle
  • Infertility
  • Pain with urination or intercourse

How to diagnose and treat

Endometriosis can be difficult to conclusively diagnose. Large endometrial cysts can be detected through a pelvic exam or ultrasound. However, most endometrial cell growths can only be found by a surgical procedure.

There is no cure for endometriosis. But there are treatment options to manage the symptoms:

  • Hormone therapy
  • Surgery to remove endometrial tissue and/or cysts

“Surgery is the very best option to treat endometriosis when the patient has severe endometriosis or is trying to conceive,” Dr. Randeree said. “Surgery can help maintain fertility by removing visible lesions. It can also be a good option when childbearing is complete, and the uterus and ovaries can be removed. Surgery can relieve pelvic pain in over 80 percent of individuals.”

Prevention

Endometriosis cannot be prevented. But there are ways to lower your risk:

  • Exercise and a healthy diet
  • Limit alcohol
  • Hormone therapy
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

What is it?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder in women, in which they produce more male hormones (androgens) than a typical woman does. Most women with PCOS have small cysts growing in their ovaries that cause the hormone imbalance.

Causes

Similar to endometriosis, it’s unknown what causes PCOS, though some factors may play a role:

  • Genetics
  • Overproduction of male hormones
  • Excessive insulin (hormone that converts sugars into energy) causing a rise in male hormones

Symptoms

Symptoms vary with PCOS. The most common are:

  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Facial and extra body hair growth
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Fertility issues

How to diagnose and treat

PCOS can be diagnosed through blood tests to measure hormone levels or ultrasound to look for cyst growth on the ovaries.

PCOS cannot be cured, but can be managed with a treatment plan.

  • If you’re overweight, losing weight can help balance hormones
  • Hormone therapy
  • Fertility treatment if you are trying to get pregnant
  • Healthy lifestyle

Prevention

PCOS cannot be prevented, but there are ways to lower your risk:

  • Avoid tobacco products
  • Exercise and a healthy diet
  • Early diagnosis and treatment – lowers your risk for complications

“Usually a woman will have polycystic ovary syndrome within the first couple years of starting her cycle until menopause,” Dr. Randeree said. “Once a woman hits menopause, the symptoms usually resolve due to the decline of androgen (male hormone) levels. However, diabetes and cardiovascular risks still persist.”