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It’s difficult to put a price tag on any one disease. The added costs of medication, doctors visits and surgeries only begin to hint at the kind of hefty figure that obesity or heart disease, for example, costs the health care industry and government per year. Add to that societal impacts and opportunity costs, and you’ve got yourself a very complicated math equation.

Perhaps it is for this reason alone–complexity–that these financial work-ups are hard to come by. This is definitely the case with endometriosis.

A disease of abnormal uterine tissue growth, endometriosis affects roughly one in ten women in the U.S. It is so prevalent and troublesome of a disease that the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center cites it as one of the most common causes of infertility in reproductive-aged women, causing anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of all infertility cases.

It would make sense then that a disease so commonly encountered by physicians would be well-researched, with solid long-term treatment options. This however, is not the case. Like with many other prevalent diseases (other than perhaps diabetes, heart disease, and several cancers), endometriosis research receives little government funding. It’s not because the government doesn’t care. It’s because the health care industry is a giant vacuum of resources, sucking up limited funds, often irresponsibly.

All of this might soon change. Senators are still working hard to pass a health care reform bill and private organizations, like the World Endometriosis Research Foundation (WERF) have started taking matters into their own hands.

Last August, WERF assembled an international consortium of researchers to assess the true costs of endometriosis. Their project, “EndoCost” was a combination prospective and retrospective study that used prior limited assessments of endometriosis related costs to calculate direct and indirect costs from a societal perspective. The five-month study wrapped at the end of last year and results are expected to surface by mid 2010.

If the study is anything like previous short-term assessments, endometriosis will surface as a larger money burner than both Crohn’s disease (a debilitating inflammatory bowel condition) and migraines. Including annual health care costs and the costs of productivity loss in those afflicted by the disease, endometriosis will likely run $2801 per patient per year. This adds up to $22 billion per year assuming a 10 percent prevalence in the U.S. population.

The consortium however, has not yet released its official data, meaning that the values listed above (projections from a 2007 study in the journal, Human Reproduction) could be over, or even worse, underestimated. With health insurance premiums rising exponentially over the last decade, the latter is more likely true.

(NOTE: The WERF consortium includes major universities in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, the UK, the Netherlands, and the U.S. (the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Wisconsin-Madison).
SOURCES:http://www.endometriosisfoundation.org/endocost.php
http://www.endometriosis.org/cost_of_endometriosis.html
http://www.ucsfhealth.org/adult/medical_services/womens_health/fertility…

Jennifer Austin is a medical journalist and 4th year medical student applying to residency in Ob/Gyn. She received her M.S. in Journalism from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Davis. Please visit her site at http://www.docjenn.wordpress.com/ This article can also be found on EmpowHer.com.

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