March is endometriosis awareness month. Endometriosis is a disorder impacting millions of people around the world. Despite its prevalence, awareness of the condition remains limited with many suffering symptoms without diagnosis for years. Today, we want to help spread awareness of endometriosis, so let’s dive in.
What is it?
Endometriosis happens when endometrial-like tissue (tissue that grows and sheds in the uterus) grows where it isn’t meant to be usually within the pelvic cavity. The tissue grows, thickens and tried to shed each cycle. It has nowhere to go and can lead to adhesions, lesions and nodules that create an inflammatory response in the body. This can cause pain and other complications. It is estimated to affect 176 million women around the globe with 1 in 10 women of reproductive age estimated to have endometriosis.
It can be a difficult condition to diagnose early, because many people don’t have symptoms, and because confirming a diagnosis requires a surgical procedure.
Symptoms can occur at any time (adolescence or later into adulthood). Symptoms may occur all the time or come and go around same point in menstrual cycle, often during someone’s period. Symptoms can vary based on where the tissue is present.
- Painful premenstrual/menstrual cramps
- Heavy periods
- Pain during or after sex (dyspareunia)(50% report sex is painful)
- Painful bowel movements and/or urination
- Pain in the abdomen, lower back, or thighs often lasting throughout the cycle
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
The stage of endometriosis does not correlate with the symptoms present.
How to differentiate cramps?
It can be really tricky to determine if your cramps are the sign of endometriosis.
For many symptoms of endometriosis can start at someone’s first period and therefore they will only ever have experienced that level of pain and may believe it is “normal”.
Some tips that can help you differentiate your cramps…
- Cramps that stop you from doing your daily activities – cramps that stop you from getting out of bed, going to school or living your life without real interruption should be explored by a healthcare professional.
- Cramps that do not ease with painkillers
- The severity of cramps has changed since last period
Causes of Endometriosis
The cause or causes of endometrial tissue growing outside of the uterus is still unknown. Some theories suggest that excess oestrogen, genes and the immune system may all play a role. Other suggest that exposure to maternal hormones, and neonatal uterine bleeding play a role. There is evidence that endometriosis can be passed down through families. There are many other suggested explanations about why endometriosis occurs. Overall, it is clear that much more research and funding is required.
Endometriosis is not a disorder that impacts only one group of women. It affects women in the prime of their life. It impacts teens, young women when they should be out being active, living their life to the fullest. This leads to wider challenges and struggles with relationships, mental health due to isolation. Moreover, it can impact someone’s career path with many having to drop out of the workforce.
The numbers of people impacted by endometriosis is similar to diabetes yet there is only a fraction of the awareness of the condition and help for those effected.
Due to the fact that symptoms may be mistaken for something else, it can take years to get a diagnosis. This is extremely harmful to the lives of those suffering from endometriosis who during the time of no diagnosis may suffer severe pain and are unable to work, socialise or maintain a sexual relationship. “Women’s problems” have too often been neglected by healthcare professionals. As mentioned there is a lack of research and funding into the disorder with many not fully understanding the symptoms of it.
Getting a diagnosis
If you are worried that you are suffering from endometriosis, you must visit a healthcare professional. Endometriosis can get worse over time leading to more severe complications such as infertility. A surgical procedure is required to confirm presence of endometriosis- it cannot be picked up via a scan.
Tips for talking to your healthcare professional
Sadly, it can be hard for people to get the required examination.
Here are some of our tips for explaining your symptoms to a healthcare professional…
- Track your period symptoms using a diary: record period pain and bleeding patterns, how long the pain lasted, what it stops you doing, when it occurred, how many painkillers you had to take etc. It may also be useful to track things like bowel movements, energy levels and contraception use.
- Practice what you want to say before your appointment – make sure you express what feels true to you. You know your own body more than anyone, if your period pain does not feel right then make sure you explain that.
- Ask for a specialist or go to a specialist – visiting a gynaecologist or someone who specialises in endometriosis might also help.
- Take someone with you – taking someone to your appointment with you who understands what you want to say can be great way to get a bit of reassurance and make sure you get all your points across.
Symptoms of endometriosis can be managed through treatment. The treatment will depend on an induvial case and what they are looking to achieve (e.g. pregnancy or less pain).
Treatment can include…
- Lifestyle changes
Sources and support