A volcano in my tummy

During a summer night in Morocco, I could not sleep at night due to stabbing cramps in my lower abdomen. To not wake up the rest of my family, I took the stairs to the bathroom in silence. I had back pain, heavy back pain, like I was carrying cement bags on my back. The cramps did not make it any easier. I was barely able to make it to the bathroom. There, my vision became blurry. I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw black spots dancing in front of me, sweat was dripping off me and I struggled to stand straight. I held on to the door handle and quietly collapsed. While sitting on the floor, I tapped my foot against the floor to shift the focus of my thoughts and forget the pain of my terrible cramps. After a few minutes, I dragged myself back to my room, laid down in foetal position and whispered a prayer several times until I fell asleep.

The scenario above repeated itself regularly in the following years. I ignored it and thought all women just experienced their periods differently, which is true, but the pain was not normal. My sisters and friends were not bothered by this. I had the feeling that I was exaggerating when I told them about how I was experiencing my menstruation pain. Two years ago, I finally mustered up my courage to go to a gynaecologist. I was not surprised when she recommended me the contraceptive pill. To investigate whether I have endometriosis, a condition in which endometrial-like tissue is found outside the uterus, she needed to perform a laparoscopy. Up until now, the cause of endometriosis is still unknown, but it is likely that immunological, hormonal, genetic and epigenetic factors are at the basis of this disease. In 1 in 10 women, endometriosis causes health problems including severe menstrual pain, bowel problems, lower back pain, fatigue and possibly even infertility.

A little disappointed, I walked out the gynaecology room. I did not understand why the gynaecologist recommended me the contraceptive pill while I was not keen on using it. I wanted natural remedies to help prevent the unbearable pain. During my teenage years, I tried all kinds of natural remedies such as spirulina, ginger and lavender tea, but unfortunately they did not help. Instead, spirulina and ginger gave me diarrhoea.

It frustrated me that there are no natural remedies to prevent menstruation pain. Therefore, I want to investigate the cause of this pain and better understand diseases such as endometriosis. Thus, with my much-needed research, I hope to contribute to solutions for women with endometriosis and to increase awareness about this underexplored condition.

What is the link between endometriosis, the microbiome and the immune system? Can beneficial bacteria help prevent menstrual pain? Let the adventure begin!

Who am I?
Hi, my name is Inas Rahou, one of the women in STEM. In 2022, I graduated as a bioengineer at KULeuven with a major specialization in cellular and genetic engineering. Recently, I joined the Isala team as a PhD researcher. I first heard about Isala while working on my bachelor’s thesis in Prof. Sarah Lebeer’s lab. Throughout my master years, I regularly kept reading about her research. Gradually I realised that my interests closely matched Isala’s set-up. This prompted me to knock on the lab’s door asking whether there was a possibility of doing research on endometriosis. Here, the fact that I suffer from menstruation pain serves as a source of motivation and inspiration.