176 million women in the world are suffering with Endometriosis. Approximately two million of those are in the UK.
It is a condition where the tissue that lines the inside of your womb not only grows on the inside… but on the outside too.
This internal tissue typically sheds monthly when you menstruate, causing a natural bleeding, otherwise known as a period.
However when this tissue is also growing on other areas of your reproductive organs it can become dangerous and cause chronic pelvic pain, and heavy bleeding.
Firstly, lets go through the typical symptoms of Endometriosis:
– Chronic pelvic pain
– Painful, heavy and often irregular periods
– Pain during intercourse
– Difficulties conceiving
Specialists say that it is very hard to diagnose Endometriosis and often the condition gets misdiagnosed for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
It usually affects women between 25 and 40, however this is not always the case.
Although the cause of the condition is still unknown and there is currently no cure for it, treatment options are available to control, relieve and help remove the tissue from affected areas.
Depending on the severity of your Endometriosis, these can include strong pain killers, birth control to try and ease symptoms or ablating surgery to remove the visible damaging tissue from any affected areas.
Left untreated Endometriosis can develop and spread to more areas and damage other organs – it can also impact your fertility.
Top gynaecological consultant Mr Faz Pakarian MD FRCOG gives a professional medical perspective on the condition, telling you what Endometriosis really means, what signs and symptoms to look out for and what treatment options are available:
What is Endometriosis?
FP: “Endometriosis is a condition where cells from the inside of the uterus become present outside, usually in the pelvis. The ovaries are the most common area where Endometriosis is found. The uterosacral ligaments are the second most common site. Endometriosis can also occur outside the pelvis, such as in the bowel, bladder and rarely in the lungs.”
What are the symptoms?
FP: “The typical symptoms for Endometriosis are:
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Painful, heavy and often irregular periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Difficulties with conceiving
Other symptoms include pain with defaecation, and bleeding per rectal during periods.”
What should you do if you experience these symptoms?
FP: “If you experience these symptoms, I would recommend that you approach your GP and ask for a referral to see a specialist. A lot of the time Endometriosis can be dismissed as IBS and it really it worthwhile.”
What treatments are available?
FP: “Treatment options include strong pain relief or birth control to keep the lining of your womb thin to try and control any pain and excessive bleeding. Other options can include surgery. To confirm a diagnosis of Endometriosis, a specialist can carry out a laparoscopy to see if you are suffering with the condition. Depending on the extent of it, they can carry out ablation through diathermy to remove the visible Endometriosis cells from the affected areas.”
(Mr Pakarian trained at Leicester Medical School and currently practices in Sussex. He is the lead colposcopist in the area and carries out multiple surgeries specialising in laparoscopies and pelvic floor reconstruction.)
Amanda Ettridge has suffered from Endometriosis for over 15 years. Amanda has chosen to share her story and said that it was worth doing so, if could stop even just one other woman from going through what she went through.
At the age of thirteen Amanda started her period. They were heavy, painful and irregular – lasting up to two weeks at a time.
When she spoke out about this she was told that because she was young, her periods would sort themselves out.
At 15, Amanda went on the contraceptive pill and while this helped regulate and control her periods, it did not stop the pain. Chronic pelvic pain became a part of Amanda’s life and she says she just “had to learn to live with it”.
At the age of 16 Amanda met her first boyfriend and became sexually active but she faced yet another hurdle – sex was painful.
Amanda and her partner went to the doctors about it where they received advice, but Amanda went on to experience pain during intercourse for the entirety of their relationship.
She says: “There were times when my life felt like it was on hold.”
Following the break up of this relationship, Amanda went through another 13 years of pain, intrusive examinations and misdiagnosis, before she was finally and correctly diagnosed with Endometriosis.
However this was a bit too late for Amanda, as she says: “I was finally diagnosed with the right condition! By now it had taken a total of 13 years and 8 painful and intrusive examinations to be diagnosed for a condition that 1 in 10 women suffer with and which it takes on average 9 years to diagnose. Unfortunately Endometriosis often causes fertility problems, which it sadly does with me. Perhaps, if it had been found sooner, the damage would have been reduced and children could have featured in my life after all.”
Not only did Amanda have to endure years of physical and emotional stress, only to find out she had Endometriosis and too much damage had been done for her to conceive, but this led to further health complications, including Deep Vein Thrombosis, which led to serious health complications in her thirties.
Amanda is now well and on top of her diagnosis but she hopes that by sharing her story, more women may become aware that they do not have to tolerate painful periods.
Amanda does not want other women to go through what she went through and urges any women suffering from these symptoms to; seek medical advice and “push doctors to take you seriously”, as it shouldn’t take years to diagnose a condition that is surprisingly common – not getting it diagnosed or leaving it untreated could seriously impact your health, quality of life and chances of fertility.
There is support available and in particular Endometriosis UK are a registered charity in the UK who aim to provide women who are suffering with the condition with support and information, to help them through their experience with Endometriosis.
In a statement from Endometriosis UK, support manager Louise said: “Endometriosis devastates the lives of women and their families. We help them take back control. One in ten women endure unrelenting pain that affects every aspect of their lives each day. That’s over 1.5 million women who desperately need support and information to help them understand this chronic condition.
We’re here to provide vital support services, reliable information and a community for those affected by Endometriosis. We want to improve the lives of people affected by Endometriosis and work towards a future where it has the least possible impact on those living with the condition. We’re a very small organisation, striving for big results.”
If you too are suffering with Endometriosis or for further information or support, contact your GP, request to see a specialist or head to endometriosis-uk.org.