Endometriosis affects one in every 10 women in Ireland. Carrying a huge personal and social cost, it can cause debilitating pain, extremely heavy periods and sometimes infertility. Despite this, awareness of endometriosis is sorely lacking. This STAND article aims to spread awareness of this chronic condition. 

 

What is endometriosis?

It is a chronic condition where tissue, similar to the tissue that grows inside the uterus, grows outside of it. The disease causes inflammation and severe pain in the pelvic area, ovaries, bowel and bladder. While being one of the most common diseases diagnosed, it is still very poorly diagnosed. In Ireland, it takes an average of nine years to get a diagnosis for endometriosis. This long-term condition commonly affects menstruating women, particularly those in their 30s or 40s, but it has also been found in trans males, premenarchal and postmenopausal females. 

 

What are the symptoms? 

Symptoms of endometriosis include pain in the abdomen, heavy menstrual bleeding, difficulty surrounding fertility, irritable bowel syndrome, rectal bleeding, and pain during and after sex. The most common symptom is severe pain before and during menstrual periods. Symptoms may become worse at certain times in the menstrual cycle, particularly at ovulation, as hormone levels vary. The inflammatory reaction that occurs can result in adhesions which develop when scar tissue attaches separate structures in the body or organs together. Some symptoms of endometriosis are cyclical, meaning they only occur each month during menstruation. These symptoms include weight gain, heavy menstrual bleeding, pain, insomnia, nausea and migraines. The amount of diseased tissue you have does not directly correlate to the severity of your symptoms. Some women will have very severe symptoms while others won’t show any external signs of the condition. 

 

What causes endometriosis?

There is no known cause for endometriosis; however, there are a few factors that increase your chances of having it. It is likely that you will have the condition if a member of your family has it (particularly your mother or sister) and women with low immune systems are more vulnerable to endometriosis.

 

How can it be treated?

This disease is incurable; however, it’s possible to lessen pain and symptoms. Endometriosis can only be fully diagnosed by a laparoscopy, which doctors are hesitant to do as it is an invasive, surgical procedure. Transvaginal ultrasound can be used to diagnose ovarian endometriosis. An MRI can also help doctors understand the extent of the disease; however, only a laparoscopy can give a definite diagnosis. Recurrence of diseased tissue after surgery is 50 percent over five years. 

 

Why is it hard to get diagnosed? 

Due to the vast range of symptoms, it is difficult to diagnose endometriosis based on those factors alone. Endometriosis and its symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. Long delays in diagnosis are also due to normalisation of symptoms, in particular severe pain during the menstrual cycle, as well as the use of contraceptive pills which suppress the symptoms of the condition. 

 

Endometriosis and fertility

While endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility, approximately 70 percent of women with the disease can conceive without treatment. There are also two large population-based databases that suggest that endometriosis is linked to miscarriage. The two databases are from Sweden and Scotland and show that women with endometriosis are 20% more likely to miscarry compared to women that did not. 

 

Endometriosis and your mental health

Endometriosis has a huge impact on women’s quality of life, suffering from severe pain, undergoing numerous surgeries and often having difficulty with fertility. It can be taxing for women’s mental health to live with endometriosis, especially with the delay in diagnosis and invasive procedures to get a full and correct diagnosis. There are a variety of support groups, such as Endometriosis Association of Ireland, to aid women in living with endometriosis. 

 

To find out more about Endometriosis visit: https://www.endometriosis.ie/about-endometriosis/

 

Photo by ALDE Group on Flickr

 

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