What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is the name given to the condition where tissue like the type found in the womb grows elsewhere in the body. This may be on the ovaries and fallopian tubes. It can cause discomfort and pain to those who suffer from it, and it’s thought to affect around 1 in 10 women in the UK. Fortunately there are effective treatments available to relieve symptoms.

The condition can affect any woman after puberty, though the symptoms can be more severe during menstruation. It can lead to infertility in women of childbearing age. Experts still aren’t sure what causes endometriosis, though there are several theories. One is something called retrograde menstruation, where some of the womb lining flows backwards during your period. Others think it could be a problem with immunity or environmental factors. Getting a diagnosis can be one of the biggest hurdles in dealing with endometriosis so it’s important to know the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

The most common symptoms of endometriosis is pain in the lower tummy and lower back, which usually gets worse on your period. If you suffer from period pain that is debilitating and stops you living your life as normal, this could be a sign that there is tissue growing outside of the womb. This external bleeding has no way of leaving the body and so causes inflammation and pain.

Even before your period comes, endometriosis can mean that ovulation is sore too. Period pains are common but if the pain in your uterus is negatively affecting your life, it’s definitely worth seeing a doctor about. Those with the condition are also more likely to have heavier periods. If you find yourself having to change your pads and tampons often, or are bleeding through them, this might be cause to get help.
Other symptoms include pain during and after sex and well as painful bowel movements. It’s best to see a professional if you think your experiences are being affected by this. More general symptoms can also include fatigue and an irritable bowel, especially around the time of your period.

Endometriosis can make it harder for sufferers to become pregnant. Around half will have difficulties, so if you’re unable to conceive naturally, this might be an avenue to investigate. There are effective ways to treat infertility, so book an appointment with your doctor and see Endometriosis UK for more information.

How do we treat endometriosis?

There is currently no permanent cure for endometriosis. You can manage symptoms effectively with the right treatments. No two women’s bodies are the same. It’s important you speak to your doctor to make sure the treatments you’re receiving are the right ones, tailored to you.

Initial treatments can focus on the management of pain. This may include the use of painkillers, especially anti-inflammatory ones such as Voltarol and ibuprofen. Other painkillers, such as codeine, are effective at managing discomfort. Bear in mind that these can cause upset in the stomach, which makes some symptoms worse. There are also types of physiotherapy that can help the body to manage pain and stress by strengthening muscles in the pelvis, abdominal and back.

There are also hormonal treatments available that put women into false states of pregnancy or menopause. This blocks the exposure to the hormone estrogen that inflames endometriosis. Many of these are similar to contraceptives, such combined pills and IUDs. There are some side effects to taking hormonal treatments. For example they can inhibit pregnancy, so again it’s worth talking to a GP to see what’s available to you.

There are also different types of surgery available to sufferers of endometriosis. This includes keyhole surgery that removes the excess tissue, to more radical surgeries. Serious surgeries, such as a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) or oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries), may be offered to women who haven’t responded to drug treatments and are not intending on starting a family. These are irreversible so will require a greater consideration.

Can lifestyle help?

Though the most effective relief may come from hormonal treatment and pain management, diet and lifestyle can go some way in making the condition more manageable.

Foods that are high in trans fats, for example those found in processed and fried foods, are linked to higher rates of endometriosis. Substances like alcohol and caffeine can act as inflammatories that aggravate painful symptoms too.

Conversely, anti-inflammatory foods, such as iron-rich leafy greens and fibrous vegetables can help fight off swelling and pain.

Staying active can feel difficult with a chronic condition. Exercise releases serotonin in the brain that can help you deal with stress and pain. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, Pilates or meditation, may also be beneficial for women with the condition.

How can I get a diagnosis?

Endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms can be varied and often many of them are indicators of other conditions too.

A GP will usually talk through your symptoms, and may examine your abdomen or vagina. The only definite way to diagnose the condition is by a laparoscopy, where a camera passes through a tiny incision in your stomach to look for excess tissue.

Getting a diagnosis is the first step towards managing your symptoms. If you’re suffering from any of the problems above get in touch with your GP.

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