Endometriosis is a condition where the cells usually found in the uterus are found elsewhere in the body such as in the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Each month, these cells react in the same way to those in the womb effectively building up, breaking down and then bleeding.
Unlike the normal cells in the womb that that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way of escaping the body. This causes inflammation, pain and the formation of scar tissue. It is a chronic, debilitating condition and is long-term which can have a significant impact on a person’s life as it causes painful and heavy periods along with possible infertility, fatigue and bladder and bowel problems.
Endometriosis can affect women of any age though is most common in women aged in their 30’s and 40’s.
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary. Some women are very badly affected, whilst others may not have any noticeable symptoms.
The main symptoms include:
- Pain in the lower tummy or back which usually worsen during a period
- Period pain that prevents you carrying out the typical daily activities
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain when urinating or defecating during a period
- Feeling nauseas, constipation, diarrhoea or having blood in urine during a period
- Difficulty getting pregnant
It is also likely that women with endometriosis will experience heavy, painful periods.
There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but various treatments can help to improve the symptoms and therefore quality of life for those with the condition.
The treatments are designed to slow the growth, relieve the pain, improve fertility or stop the condition returning and include:
- Painkillers: anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can help relieve the inflammation and pain.
- Hormone medicines and contraceptives: hormone treatments will limit or completely stop the production of Oestrogen which is the hormone which encourages endometriosis tissue to grow and shed.
- Surgery to remove the patches of endometriosis tissue.
- An operation to remove all or parts of surrounding organs affected by the condition.
Your doctor will assess which treatment is best depending on a number of factors. They will take into account your age, the severity of your condition and how you feel personally about certain treatments such as hormone therapies and surgery.
Some women may also not be suitable for surgery and therefore alternatives will be offered in such circumstances.
It is important to note that some women may not require any treatment at all and they can live with the condition without any problems or symptoms.
The cause of endometriosis is unknown but there are several theories that have been suggested to help explain it. These include:
- Genetics: endometriosis tends to run in families and can affect people of certain ethnic groups more than others.
- Retrograde menstruation: this is when some of the womb lining flows up through the fallopian tubes and embeds itself on the organs of the pelvis, rather than leaving the body as a period.
- A problem with the immune system
- Endometrium cells spreading through the body in the bloodstream or lymphatic system (a series of tubes/glands that form part of the immune system).
None of the above theories provide a full explanation as to why endometriosis occurs and so it is though that it is caused by a combination of different factors.
- Difficulty getting pregnant or complete infertility
- Complications from surgery such as infection, bleeding and damage to surrounding organs.
- Adhesions and ovarian cysts which can be treated with surgery.
- 1 in 10 women of reproductive age suffer with endometriosis in the UK.
- Around 1.5 million women are currently living with endometriosis in the UK.
- 10% of women worldwide suffer with the condition which accounts for 176 million people.
- Endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition
- The prevalence of endometriosis in women with infertility could be as high as 30-50%.
- On average, it takes 8 years from the onset of symptoms to receive a diagnosis
There are many support groups such as Endometriosis UK which aim to try and help people cope with living with endometriosis. They offer information, support and organise days where women suffering with the condition can share their stories.