Work and Endometriosis
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2018
Endometriosis may impact a woman's ability to work or to complete her job effectively. Debilitating endometriosis-related symptoms such as chronic pelvic pain or painful periods may make it difficult for a woman to get to work or handle tasks efficiently. Although studies are limited, it has been estimated that women with endometriosis lose five to ten hours a week due to employment presenteeism and at least one hour a week due to employment absenteeism. Employment presenteeism occurs when an individual is at work, but their productivity is decreased. Employment absenteeism is when an individual misses work altogether. These estimates trend higher with increasing severity of endometriosis-related symptoms. As mentioned, research into lost working time as a result of endometriosis is limited, but some studies have estimated that the number of working days missed completely due to endometriosis-related symptoms, treatments, or recovery may be as high as 20 days a year.1-3
What is FMLA?
Although it may be difficult at times, in many cases, working part- or full-time may be necessary to remain financially stable. This means that women with endometriosis may be required to navigate the workplace, despite all they are having to endure. In some cases, a woman may be able to take advantage of FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) time to undergo treatment, to complete post-treatment recovery, or when symptoms are severe. FMLA helps individuals take time off when they are in need, without fear of losing their job. However, this time is unpaid, and may not be feasible for everyone.4 If you are interested in taking FMLA time, contact your healthcare provider and your employer, as you will most likely need both parties' approval to do so.
Managing endometriosis and work
Whether or not you choose to pursue FMLA or other time-off options, there are tips you may be able to use to make getting through the work day more bearable. Several of these are outlined below.
Tips for communication
Talking about endometriosis with coworkers or supervisors can be difficult, especially since it's a condition of the female reproductive system and has symptoms including chronic pelvic pain and painful periods. You do not have to share information on your condition if you don't want to, and whatever you do choose to share is up to you. However, opening lines of communication with a trusted coworker may be helpful and provide you with a friend and confidant that will understand and have your back when you need to take a break or are having a rough day. It may also help those around you support you better, or help them understand why you may not be at your best some days.
It may be harder to talk with a supervisor about your condition than a coworker, however, talking with your supervisor may be necessary at times, as they may be the only one who can enact change that will help. It's important to remember though that if you are going to pursue ADA accommodations, your supervisor or employer will need to be made aware of your condition.
Stagger challenging tasks
Take note of your energy levels and any regular symptom changes throughout the day and plan your challenging tasks around them. For example, if you notice that the first two hours of the day you have the most energy and you start developing worsening pain around lunchtime, try to tackle your more challenging tasks in the morning and save the easier ones for later in the day when you may be struggling (or are more likely to be struggling). Not everyone's endometriosis symptoms will be predictable, however, you may still want to try to take on harder tasks when you're feeling better than usual and complete your more simplified tasks when you are having a harder time. Being mindful of your body and relating it to the tasks you have at hand may help you create a to-do list that is feasible and attainable.
Be ready in the event that endometriosis-related pain or other symptoms strike when you're at work. Keeping a heating pad in your desk to place on your abdomen if you begin cramping may help reduce pain when you need it the most. Additionally, keeping supplies on hand that make you happy and improve your mood may help you get through a rough day. A favorite snack, poem, video, or photo that you keep tucked away until you need it may provide you with the boost you need to keep going.
Needing to take a break, or multiple breaks, during the work day is completely normal. Few, if any, individuals can stay completely focused and productive when working on a task for hours at a time. Allowing yourself mental breaks when you need them may help space out your tasks and provide you with the refocusing that you need to keep going. Some of these breaks may even including going for a walk, participating in an activity, or leaving your place of work for lunch.