This month is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis affects 1 in 9 women and is a painful and chronic condition that can lead to debilitating symptoms and infertility. This month provides us with an opportunity to shine a light on the condition and help to improve outcomes for women suffering in silence.
What is endometriosis?
Often confused with period pain, endometriosis is notoriously hard to diagnose. The Mayo clinic offers this definition:
“Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial-like tissue may be found beyond the area where pelvic organs are located.”
What are the signs and symptoms of endometriosis?
Some common signs and symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Severe fatigue
- Painful periods
- Pain during or after sexual intercourse
- Pain with bowel movements
- Pain when urinating
- Pain in the lower back or legs
- Frequency in urination/ urgency
- Excessive bleeding or irregular menstruation
The 4 stages of endometriosis
There is an internationally recognised classification, or staging system for endometriosis. The stage of endometriosis is based on the location, amount, depth and size of the endometrial tissue. The stages are classified as below:
Stage 1: Minimal – Some small lesions and wounds in the pelvic region. Little scar tissue present.
Stage 2: Mild – more implants than stage 1, and some scar tissue present.
Stage 3: Moderate – Many deep implants, and possibility of cysts on ovaries. Thick scar tissue (adhesions).
Stage 4: Severe – Widespread thick scar tissue. Large cysts on both ovaries.
It’s important to remember that the stage of the condition as noted above doesn’t necessarily align with the pain experienced or the infertility risk. For example, some women can be asymptomatic in stage 4, while others might experience severe pain in stage 1.
How is endometriosis diagnosed?
Often confused with period pain, endometriosis is notoriously hard to diagnose. A full diagnosis is only possible via laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) and this needs to be carefully considered as the procedure itself carries some risk for future fertility.
Watch the video below from Endometriosis Australia for a detailed overview of the difficulties of diagnosing the condition.
There is no cure for endometriosis but there are treatment options available. There is no “one size fits all” approach, as some treatments work for some women and not for others. It is important that you discuss all options with your doctor to determine your treatment plan.
There are 3 common kinds of treatments for endometriosis. They are:
- Medicinal treatments
- Surgical treatments
- Complementary treatments (physiotherapy, nutrition, psychology)
The contraceptive pill or IUD can help control the hormones responsible for the buildup of tissue (which causes the pain) and can reduce or even eliminate symptoms in some cases. Anti inflammatory medication can also help to reduce pain.
Conservative surgical treatments can be an effective way of increasing your chance of becoming pregnant. Surgery can also help treat severe pain caused by endometriosis.
If you are having trouble getting pregnant due to endometriosis then your doctor may recommend fertility treatment.
Watch this video from Endometriosis Australia for more details on treatment options
Make an appointment at Valewood
If you have any concerns about painful periods or any questions about endometriosis please make an appointment to see one of our friendly doctors.