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Cycle Health

Endometriosis Awareness Month

Endometriosis Awareness Month was created to raise awareness about an often overlooked illness. The truth is, endo is a whole lot more than “painful periods”.

It is estimated to affect around one in ten women of reproductive age, but endometriosis is often misunderstood or confused with other conditions. In fact, it’s so rarely taken seriously that women wait an average of 7 years before receiving a diagnosis.

Endometriosis is caused by tissue similar to the lining of the womb (the endometrium) growing in other places, like the fallopian tubes and ovaries. It’s a chronic condition that can be challenging to recognise and treat, often being misdiagnosed as IBS or pelvic inflammatory disease.

As with any chronic illness, suffering from endometriosis can have a real impact on your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health. If you think you have endometriosis, don’t be afraid to reach out for support from your family and friends. There’s also an incredible community of endo sufferers online; search for #endometriosis or #endowarrior to read their stories! Knowing that you’re not alone can be a source of comfort, as well as empowering you to take the first steps to getting the treatment you need.

What are the symptoms?

Everyone experiences endometriosis a little differently. While some might not even notice they have it, others can experience debilitating symptoms such as:

  • Severe period pain that stops you from carrying out normal activities
  • Very heavy bleeding that causes you to go through a large amount of pads or tampons, or leak through your clothes
  • Chronic pelvic/lower back pain that usually gets worse during your period
  • Painful sex
  • Pain when you use the bathroom
  • Infertility or difficulty getting pregnant

Carefully tracking your cycle can help you identify patterns in your symptoms and how they relate to your cycle. This information can be invaluable for getting a diagnosis and forming a treatment plan with your doctor.

How is it treated?

While there’s no cure for endometriosis, the good news is that it can be treatable.

If you suspect you might have endometriosis, the first step is to report your symptoms to your doctor. They can work with you to find the best solution for your body, such as:

  • Pain management: Over the counter medicine such as ibuprofen can help by reducing inflammation. If these don’t help, your doctor may consider a prescription for stronger medication.
  • Hormonal contraception: If you’re not looking to get pregnant, taking the oral contraceptive pill can help stop bleeding and reduce pain by controlling the hormones responsible for the buildup of endometrial tissue. Another option is inserting an IUD, which can have similar benefits.
  • Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues: This treatment will stop your estrogen production, effectively inducing a temporary menopause. The endometriosis tissue will shrink from this treatment, and once you finish taking the medicine and your menstrual cycle returns, you may have an increased chance of getting pregnant.
  • Surgery to remove affected tissue: Your doctor may suggest surgery to remove the affected tissue to reduce the pain. However, this type of surgery may not have lasting results as it won’t prevent tissue from building up again in the future.
  • Surgery to remove all affected areas: In more severe cases, your doctor may suggest removing all areas affected. For example, they may suggest removing the uterus (a hysterectomy), or the ovaries (an oophorectomy).

What causes endometriosis?

The jury is still out on the exact causes of endometriosis but scientists have come up with a few theories, such as:

  • Genetics: There may be a genetic component to endometriosis, which means that if a member of your family suffers from it, you’re more likely to be affected too.
  • Retrograde menstruation: This is when the lining of the womb flows back into the fallopian tubes, instead of leaving the body as your period.
  • Immune disorder: Endometriosis is not an autoimmune disease, but abnormal immune responses may contribute to its development.
  • Cycles shorter than 25 days: Women with shorter cycles are more likely to develop endometriosis. This may be because they have more menstrual cycles, and thus have a higher exposure to estrogen.

It’s important to note that none of these theories fully explain why some of us suffer from endometriosis, and it could be caused by a combination of several of these factors. Until we know what causes endometriosis, there will be no way to prevent it and we can only treat the symptoms. However, some studies have suggested that lifestyle factors like regular exercise and avoiding coffee and alcohol may reduce your risk.

If you have symptoms of endometriosis, you don’t need to suffer in silence. Carefully tracking your symptoms and making an appointment with your doctor are great first steps to getting relief from the pain, improving your fertility and getting some peace of mind.