Endometriosis 101: All Your Questions Answered
Everything you need to know about the condition Lena Dunham is currently suffering from.
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Whether you’ve been told you might be suffering from it, or know somebody else who is, here’s your guide to all things endometriosis.
So… what is it?
Endometriosis - which is surprisingly hard to say - is a condition where tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside of the womb. It appears in different places for different women, but the most commonly affected areas are the ovaries, fallopian tubes, stomach and bladder.
But what does that mean?
It means that this ‘endometrial’ tissue acts in exactly the same way as the tissue inside your womb - it thickens with each menstrual cycle, then breaks down and bleeds. Unlike the tissue in your womb though, it has no way of exiting your body - and can cause irritation, inflammation, scar tissue, and adhesions, which in turn can lead to pelvic tissues and organs sticking together. As you’ve probably guessed, this whole process causes - often extremely severe - pain.
What causes it?
The cause of endometriosis isn't actually known, but various clever medical types have several theories, including genetics - as the condition tends to run in families; retrograde menstruation - when some of the womb lining doesn’t leave the body as a period, but embeds itself on the organs of the pelvis via the fallopian tube instead; a problem with the immune system; and endometrial cells spreading through the body in the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The condition is probably caused by a combination of many factors, rather than just one of the above.
How do I know if I have it?
While endometriosis affects different women in different ways, there are several symptoms to look out for. These include:
- Extreme period pain that isn’t helped by painkillers
- Very heavy periods
- Pain in your pelvis during your period, or even when you’re not menstruating
- Pain during and after sex
- Pain or discomfort when using the loo
- Blood in your poo
- Feeling tired all of the time
How is it diagnosed?
By your GP. If you have any of the above symptoms, or are concerned in any way, book an appointment to see your doctor. Endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms vary so much from person to person, so you might be referred to a gynaecologist who will be able to run some further tests.
What kind of tests?
Some women require a laparoscopy to confirm that they have endometriosis, which is where a thin tube is passed through a small incision in your skin, so that doctors can locate any growth of endometrial tissue outside your womb.
What can I do about it?
While there isn’t a cure for endometriosis right now, there are several treatments that can help ease symptoms. Non surgical options include anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen, and contraceptives like the combined pill, or an IUS, which help reduce the thickening of the womb lining, and therefore the pain.
In severe cases, your doctor may suggest surgery, where patches of endometriosis tissue are cut away, or organs affected by endometriosis are removed. In very extreme cases, some women have their womb removed, which is known as a hysterectomy.
What else do I need to know?
One of the main complications of endometriosis can cause difficulties in getting pregnant, but surgical treatment can help with this, and many women who have endometriosis do go on to have children.
On an emotional level as well as physically, endometriosis can be a really hard condition to deal with, and can even lead to feelings of depression.
There is support available though - Endometriosis UK have a great support network as well as loads of information and advice.
- Words by Lizzie Cox.