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Find out about this common condition – which affects one in 10 UK women – that’s still a mystery to many
Many of us have experienced cramping and just a general feeling of yuckiness around the time that our period starts. Period pains are unfortunately a normal and common part of the menstrual cycle which most women experience at some point in their lives.
Now imagine when that time of the month rolls around, experiencing not just cramps but bent-double, severe period pain, diarrhoea, bloating and fatigue. For those women with endometriosis, unfortunately there’s no need to imagine. These symptoms are a reality.
In the UK, it’s the second most common gynaecological condition and affects an estimated one in 10 women of reproductive age
Not only tricky to pronounce, endometriosis (en-doh–me–tree–oh–sis FYI) is a condition that’s difficult to understand and diagnose. In the UK, it’s the second most common gynaecological condition and affects an estimated one in 10 women of reproductive age.
If you’ve never heard of the condition before, you’re not alone. Despite it affecting so many women, it’s still largely misunderstood and is often either passed off as extreme period pain or misdiagnosed as another condition.
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue that’s similar to the womb lining (the endometrium), starts to grow in other places in the body such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel and bladder. This tissue behaves as it would do normally in the womb, thickening, breaking down and bleeding during the menstrual cycle. Because there’s no way for this tissue to leave the body, it can irritate surrounding tissues and cause inflammation, pain and scarring.
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, but several theories have been suggested to try and explain the cause:
Endometriosis tends to run in families and affects people of certain ethnic groups more than others.
During your period, menstrual blood containing endometrial cells can flow backwards through the fallopian tubes instead of leaving the body as a period. The endometrial cells can then stick to the surfaces of organs in your abdomen and grow.
Endometrial cell transport
If endometrial cells get into the bloodstream, they can be transported around the body.
It’s likely that endometriosis is caused by a combination of different factors.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Endometriosis symptoms vary from person to person. While some women are badly affected, others may have no noticeable symptoms at all. The severity of symptoms often depends on where in the body the abnormal tissue is. Although they can be different for everyone, common symptoms include:
• Pain in your lower stomach or back – usually worse during your period
• Painful, heavy or irregular periods
• Period pain that stops you doing your normal activities
• Pain during or after sex
• Pain when going to the toilet during your period
• Feeling sick, being constipated, or having diarrhoea during your period
• Difficulty getting pregnant
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
Endometriosis can be hard to diagnose as it can be mistaken for other conditions that have similar symptoms. These include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ovarian cysts and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes diarrhoea, constipation and stomach pains.
If you are experiencing symptoms, you may find it helpful to keep a diary to track them over time throughout your cycle. If you’re worried, speak to your GP. They’ll be able to chat with you about your symptoms and discuss your next steps. They may refer you to a gynaecologist to carry out a pelvic exam or an ultrasound.
A minor surgical procedure known as a laparoscopy is currently the only way to identify and diagnose endometriosis. Although there is no cure, symptoms can be managed with medications or surgery, depending on their severity.
It’s important to remember that endometriosis affects everyone differently and there are multiple options for treatment and pain management. So many things vary when it comes to this condition, so if you’re experiencing pain, don’t just pass it off as the norm. Speak with your GP.