Just a period or endometriosis
For two million women in the UK, having a painful period, bowel problems and bloating are all normal monthly occurrences. This affects women between the ages of 25 and 40, can take up to eight years to diagnose. There isn't any cure but there are ways to manage and control the symptoms of the disease. Information is the first thing to arm yourself with.
What is Endometriosis?
The cells from the lining of the womb, called the endometrium, are found outside the womb. These cells respond to the menstrual cycle. You release hormones monthly, causing the womb lining to grow, in preparation to receive the fertilized egg, if your not pregnant. The lining then breaks down and bleeds, is discarded via the cervix, you have your period. This can also be said for the endometriosis cells as they also grow and bleed, but the blood has nowhere to go. The blood stays in the pelvic cavity aggravating the surrounding tissues, causing pain. These adhesion's, the scar tissue that binds organs such as the womb, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, bowel and bladder. Cysts can also form through this.
Why it occurs no one knows for sure. Some Doctors think that 'retrograde menstruation' when blood flows back into the pelvis via the Fallopian tubes. May be type of autoimmune disorder, when the body is unable to destroy the out of place cells. Another theory is that rogue cells took a wrong turn during foetal development, but the problem didn't start until puberty.
Symptoms include painful, heavy or irregular periods, pelvic pain or lower back ache. Sex can also be painful. Pain during bowel movements, bleeding from the bowel at the same time as your period can be easily mistaken for IBS. Feeling tired and down, problems conceiving. Often endometriosis can be discovered when other conditions are being investigated. Keep a diary and show it to your GP ask them to investigate. Your GP should refer you to a specialist. Endometriosis can only be properly identified by a laparoscopy, via the abdomen. Harmless gas inflates your abdomen while a tiny camera (laparoscope). If adhesion's are found outside the women, endometriosis can be diagnosed.
Medication such as painkillers and inflammatories can relieve symptoms. Treatment depends on age, severity, stage of symptoms. Medicines such as testosterone's, progesterone's, drugs called GnRH and the pill. These all suppress ovulation, which means no period or bleeding, which causes pain. Most hormonal drugs have side effects which can also be treated. The severe cases would demand surgery. This involves removing adhesion's with heat treatment or lasers. This can be done at the same time as a laparoscopy. New endometriosis adhesion's may still form even after you have the treatment, but they require time to form. Hysterectomy and oophorectomy are what most women fear with endometriosis, this is however rarely necessary.
Support emotionally is very important. Even though endometriosis isn't life threatening, support is still hugely important. Many women have lost their jobs, places at universities and relationships through endometriosis. Women withdraw socially, often feeling resentful of other women because they can't lead normal lives. Depression and isolation can often be felt, and counselling should be arranged with your GP in this case. Pain management clinics at your local hospital, are worth asking for help. There are charities and helplines, online forums and Endometriosis UK.
© 2010 Helen Bolam
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