What is it?
As a woman, our uterus (or womb) is lined with endometrium tissue. This is normal. What is not normal, and what happens when a woman suffers from endometriosis, is that this tissue is present on organs outside of the uterus, including the ovaries (where the eggs come from), the fallopian tubes, behind or around the uterus, and even on your bowl or bladder. As a woman, our bodies go through a [roughly] monthly cycle, and during this time the endometrium sheds from the uterus, hence you having a period. Endometriosis also goes through these changes and that is why periods can be heavy and painful. This is why it is really only seen in women from their teens to pre-menopause.
Endometriosis can lead to symptoms including painful sex, [chronic] pelvic or abdominal pain, heavy and painful periods, and difficulty falling pregnant. However, symptoms can vary greatly and this might make diagnosis challenging or even lead to a missed diagnosis. A lot of women are also asymptomatic, meaning that they don’t have any particular symptoms, and may only discover the condition when trying to fall pregnant.
What you need to know:
- There is nothing you could have done or nothing you did that lead to you developing endometriosis. Some people will tell you that you might have endometriosis because you didn’t have kids earlier, but there is no truth to that. Younger and older women can suffer from endometriosis.
- Suffering from endometriosis can be tiring, physically and emotionally. Be kind to yourself and ensure you’re speaking to your Dr and getting a second opinion if need be.
- Sex can be really painful, and many women don’t speak up about this or know that it’s not normal. Speak to your gynaecologist or physician. It could be a number of things – endometriosis being just one. Deep pain during sex [known as dyspareunia] can lead to lowered sexual satisfaction and interfere with your quality of life. It can thus also affect your desire and interest in sex, and how aroused you get during sex.
- If you have a mild form of endometriosis, falling pregnant shouldn’t be too difficult. When you do fall pregnant, women report relief in symptoms throughout pregnancy [due to constant natural pregnancy hormones].
- Having a hysterectomy is not the only [or first] answer! This is an extreme line of treatment and I urge you to always get a second opinion if this is what your physician is suggesting.
So how is it treated?
Unfortunately there is no cure for endometriosis, and thus symptom management is the first line approach to treatment. This should be specific to your symptoms, age, lifestyle, and if you wish to have children or not.
Treatment may include painkillers, having a Mirena (IUS) inserted (read about this contraceptive method here), hormonal medication, or a laparoscopy – a [key hole] surgical procedure performed through a tiny incision in your belly button, while you are under general anaesthetic, so as to explore the sites of the endometriosis and to sometimes take tissue samples for biopsy. Tissue can be removed to relieve pain and assist with fertility, as studies have found that by removing some of this tissue can improve your chances of falling pregnant.
Women do not experience this condition in the same way and thus assessment, diagnosis, treatment and symptom management should be individual to each woman.