Endometriosis is a condition that affects women of childbearing age. It is often flagged up by intense period pain which has an impact on your day to day life, affecting one in ten women in the UK.
Each month, a woman’s body prepares itself for reproduction by releasing hormones into the womb. The hormones thicken the lining of the womb to ready itself for a fertilised egg. Should pregnancy not occur, the lining breaks down and is shed from the body as a period.
Endometriosis occurs when cells that line the uterus grow in other areas of the pelvis and occasionally occurring in other areas of the body like the liver and lungs. These cells, called endometrial cells, react to the menstrual cycle in the same way as the womb, thickening and then shedding as blood. However, the blood shed from then non-uterus areas has no way to leave the body during your period. Pain, inflammation, cysts and scar tissue can build up as a result of this.
Endometriosis affects every woman differently. Some might experience a great deal of pain and discomfort while others may not. Symptoms commonly include:
Very painful periods which prevent you from carrying out day to day activities
Lower abdominal or back pain
Pain during or after sex
Painful bowel movements
Difficulty getting pregnant or infertility
Tiredness and fatigue
It often takes a long time to get diagnosed with endometriosis as other conditions can mask the symptoms. So your GP may not be able to identify it at first. On average, it takes 7.5 years to receive a confirmed diagnosis from the time you first report symptoms to your GP. A laparoscopy procedure is a sure way to determine whether or not you have endometriosis. Laparoscopy is a routine procedure where a small telescope is inserted into the navel to examine the internal tissue.
The process of getting diagnosed is rarely straightforward. Giving your doctor as much information as you can to accurately describe your symptoms and explain any difficulties you are having can help. Keeping a diary to track when and how often you encounter pain and discomfort can also help with this.
The cause of endometriosis is not known. There are several theories on what causes the condition but none of these provide a definite explanation on why endometriosis occurs.
Some possible causes are:
Retrograde menstruation: this is where the lining of the womb travels up the fallopian tubes instead of a period occurring
Genetics: the likelihood of developing endometriosis could be passed down in families
Low immune system: if you are susceptible to other conditions or illnesses this could reduce your body’s ability to fight off endometriosis
Lymphatic or circulatory spread: where the tissue from the uterus spreads through the bloodstream to other parts of the body
Endometriosis is a long term condition. There is no cure, but treatment can help to manage and ease your symptoms. Your doctor will evaluate your situation and take into account how severe your endometriosis is and how it affects your life. Different types of treatment include pain relief, hormonal contraceptives and surgery.
The treatment you are offered will depend on your age, whether or not you are looking to get pregnant and which symptoms are most prevalent.
There is a link between endometriosis and difficulty getting pregnant. Infertility can be one of the complications associated with the condition, but the relationship has not been fully established. If your symptoms are mild to moderate, you may still be able to conceive naturally without experiencing problems. Having surgery to remove endometrial tissue can improve your chances of becoming pregnant in more severe cases, but there are no guarantees.
Endometriosis affects everybody differently. If you have chronic pain, then it may interfere with work or school commitments and the symptoms may cause problems in your sex life or have an impact on your relationships.
Due to the lengthy process of getting a diagnosis and appropriate treatment, this can be frustrating and leave you feeling isolated. It’s essential to make sure you have access to emotional support as there is also a link between endometriosis and depression. If you find that your emotions are overwhelming or you’re struggling to cope then tell your doctor. They may refer you to an appropriate counselling service or advice you on some self-help techniques.