A first drug, by the name of Elagolix, to treat for endometriosis-related pain, has recently become approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Endometriosis is caused by uterine tissue moving to another part of the body, usually around the pelvis. The pain, which affects one in ten young women, can cause severe pelvic discomfort during menstruation, sexual intercourse, or all the time. Currently, endometriosis-related pain is managed by common painkillers, contraceptives that work to lessen or block menstruation, or through injectable hormonal treatments. In many cases, women suffering from endometriosis do not benefit from these treatments because they either don’t work, produce unpleasant side-effects such as weight gain or moodiness, or administered for only short periods of time due to the effects of the treatment on bone density.
Fortunately, Elagolix may be taken for longer, but it does come with several side-effects. During a placebo-controlled clinical trial study that examined almost 900 women with moderate to severe endometriosis pain, Elagolix was seen to reduce menstrual pain in over 40 percent of affected women and non-menstrual pelvic pain in over 50 percent when taken orally as a once-daily pill. Elagolix was also seen to reduce average pain ratings during sexual intercourse. The science of Elagolix works by reducing estrogen, the hormone that drives endometriosis. It is believed that because Elagolix slightly reduces the estrogen levels, the drug can be taken for up to two years. On the other hand, injectable hormone treatments, which effectively lower estrogen more powerfully, can only be administered for 6 months because it causes bone loss.
The side-effects that come with taking Elagolix include hot flushes and headaches in about 20 percent of the patient’s examined in the clinical trial with nausea occurring in about 10 percent. “Despite these side-effects, any extra options for treating endometriosis are welcome,” says Elizabeth Farrell, a gynecologist at Jean Hailes, an Australian women’s health organization. Farrell believes that despite the effectiveness of Elagolix, it is unlikely that it will become a first-line treatment for patients. “The oral contraceptive pill or an IUD would probably still be the first thing you tried,” she says.