‘Draining,’ ‘excruciating,’ and ‘isolating’.
These are some of the words women use to describe the pain and trauma that come with endometriosis, a condition that affects 10% of women worldwide.
And yet, many still don’t know the difference between period cramps and endometriosis pain. In fact, it can take many women an average of 6.5 years just to get diagnosed.
Endometriosis is a medical condition that occurs when endometrial tissue, which normally lines the uterus, grows outside of it, typically in the pelvic area. Endometrial implants, or lesions, are abnormal growths that can attach to various organs and tissues within the pelvis, causing a variety of symptoms and complications.
How serious is endometriosis?
Endometriosis isn’t just period pain or cramps. Nope, it’s excruciating chronic pain for months on end. Sadly, this is the reality for many women with endometriosis.
The severity of endometriosis symptoms varies greatly between individuals. Some women may experience mild discomfort during their menstrual periods, while others experience debilitating pain that interferes with daily activities.
Unfortunately for women who suffer from endometriosis, the pain lasts longer than menstruation and becomes a constant companion throughout the month.
This chronic pelvic pain has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, making it difficult to work, attend social events, and even participate in physical activities. Not only that, but the condition takes a heavy emotional and mental toll on those who suffer from it.
Chronic pain can result in feelings of frustration, helplessness, and even depression. Many people experience the uncertainty and frustration of a delayed diagnosis, often suffering for years before receiving a proper diagnosis.
However, one of the biggest challenges for women suffering from endometriosis is that it can have serious consequences for fertility and reproductive health. Endometrial implants can cause inflammation, scarring, and adhesions in the pelvic cavity, which can lead to infertility or difficulty conceiving. The emotional burden of longing for a child while dealing with the challenges of endo can be overwhelming.
“Many individuals with endometriosis are still able to conceive naturally or with the help of fertility treatments,” she says. “However, the severity of endometriosis and individual factors can vary, and fertility outcomes can differ from person to person.”
However, seeking an early diagnosis and treatment can help preserve fertility and increase the chances of a successful pregnancy.
What are the first signs of endometriosis?
Ever felt that your period cramps were a bit off?
Recognising early endometriosis symptoms is critical for early intervention and management. It is important to note, however, that symptoms can vary and not everyone experiences the same indicators.
Some common early warning signs include:
- Dysmenorrhea (painful periods): Experiencing intense pelvic pain before or during menstruation, which is frequently accompanied by lower back pain.
- Chronic pelvic pain: This type of pain lasts the entire menstrual cycle and can worsen during bowel movements or intercourse.
- Dyspareunia (painful intercourse): Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse.
- Fatigue and gastrointestinal problems: Feeling exhausted despite adequate rest and experiencing digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea.
How do you fix endometriosis?
While there has been no great endometriosis breakthrough yet, various treatment options are available to help manage symptoms, improve quality of life, and preserve fertility.
The best treatment plan is determined by factors such as the severity of symptoms, desire for future fertility, and personal circumstances. Common treatment methods include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are available over-the-counter, can help relieve mild to moderate pain.
Birth control pills, hormonal patches, and other hormone-based medications can regulate hormone levels, alleviate pain, and slow endometrial tissue growth.
Endometrial implants, scar tissue, and cysts are frequently removed during laparoscopic surgery. In severe cases, a hysterectomy (uterine removal) may be considered.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART)
If endometriosis is causing infertility, ART techniques such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) can be considered.
How can nutrition help with endometriosis?
“While there is no specific diet that can cure endometriosis, a healthy and balanced diet can help manage the symptoms and improve overall health,” says Jacqueline.
She continues: “If you are an endo warrior you may have heard of different dietary approaches which can help to reduce endo symptoms and manage the condition. Whilst I’d love to direct you to a specific diet that can resolve it all, the reality is that it comes down to the individual and finding dietary tweaks that suit their condition. It’s important to work 1:1 with a qualified health practitioner who can provide specific dietary guidelines to suit your needs.”
Some general advice that people suffering from endometriosis can follow include limiting caffeine and alcohol and ensuring you are getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and veggies, opting for whole grains and avoiding processed and high fat foods.
Got more questions? No problem. We answer some of the FAQs about endometriosis:
What is the average age of women with endometriosis?
Endometriosis can affect women of all ages, but it is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 35, during a woman’s reproductive years. Approximately 67% of women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with endometriosis. Endometriosis has, however, also been found in adolescents and women approaching menopause.
What are the causes of endometriosis?
Although the exact cause of endometriosis is unknown, researchers have identified three potential causes:
According to ‘Retrograde menstruation,’ endometrial blood flows backward through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity, where the cells attach and grow.
Another theory believes that endometriosis may have a hereditary component because it tends to run in families. Thus, certain genetic variations may predispose some women to more likely have the condition.
Multiple studies, however, concluded that endometriosis happens due to an impaired immune system. Endometrial cells that grow outside the uterus are not recognised and eliminated by an impaired immune system, which then allows them to flourish and cause endometriosis.
While many scientists still believe retrograde menstruation to be the most likely cause of endometriosis, a recent study found the bacteria Fusobacterium could be responsible.
The study found fusobacterium in over 60% of women who suffered from endometriosis, leading researchers to explore if endometriosis is a bacterial infection and whether antibiotics could be the answer.
Can you have endometriosis and PCOS?
Actually, yes. It is possible to have endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) at the same time.
Endometriosis and PCOS are two distinct diseases with distinct underlying mechanisms. The former is characterised by the abnormal growth of endometrial tissue outside the uterus, whereas PCOS is characterised by hormonal imbalances and the formation of cysts on the ovaries.
While they can coexist, they are not causally or directly linked. If you suspect you have one or both of these conditions, it is critical to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plan.
Living with endometriosis
You are not alone.
Currently, Australia alone has over 83,000 women living with endometriosis. Over time, they have come together to help each other find ways to improve their quality of life. You can learn more about the latest research on Endometriosis Australia.
Want to learn more about how you can live with endo? You can listen to their special podcast, which focuses on raising awareness and helping women find the support they need to live with endometriosis.