- Women's Health
Trouble Conceiving? Painful, Heavy Periods? Could Endometriosis be the Cause?
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis (pronounced end-oh-mee-tree-oh-sis) is a condition that causes debilitating, painful periods, excessive menstrual blood loss, and can (in severe cases) affect female fertility.
It is caused by the Endometrial (or Endo) cells that line the womb, growing in other parts of the body. The cells attach to themselves to other organs such as the bowel, falopian tubes and ovaries. The cells react during the menstrual period in exactly the same way that the lining of the womb reacts. But whereas the womb lining is discarded (in the form of menstrual blood), the blood produced by the Endo cells can not escape. They become inflamed, causing severe period cramps, and can cause scar tissue.
Because many women do not like discussing their menstrual cycle, even with their doctor, it can often go un-diagnosed. It has been widely unheard of, until recently that is. Now reports show that one in ten women have this condition.
Symptoms and Indicator Signs of Endometriosis
- Chronically painful period cramps
- Excessive menstrual blood loss
- Problems conceiving
- Pain during and after sexual intercourse
- Painful bowel movements
Please note that not all sufferers experience all symptoms.
During my teens (in the 1990s), my menstrual period was a nightmare. I suffered with irregular periods (often having just a week between cycles), debilitating pain, and excessive blood loss. I was constantly tired, even between periods, and I was bordering on being dangerously underweight.
My doctor dismissed my mother's anxiety with 'she'll grow out of it' or 'every woman's period is different'. He seemed completely disinterested in the pain and embarrassment I was undergoing every other week, when the blood would inevitably flood through my clothes. I took to constantly wearing a sanitary towel 'just in case' as I would come on heavily and suddenly, but even that wasn't enough: on many occasions even the thickest night-time pads for heavy flow were not able to cope with my excessive blood loss. Eventually I was prescribed mefenamic acid for my period pain, but that didn't really do much for me. I missed a lot of school as I was unable to leave the house due to pain and fear.
Nothing really changed for me until I left school and began taking the contraceptive pill. Then at least I had some control over my period and knew when it would begin each month. I finally put on some much needed weight and had a lot more energy. But when I married and came off the pill in order to try for a baby all my symptoms came back. I put up with it and continued trying for three years with no luck. By that time I was convinced that I must be infertile, and we began to seek help from the fertility clinic.
During the wait to be referred I came across a small article in a magazine about Endometriosis... It listed the symptoms and I had each one! I did some research online, and the more I read the more convinced I became that this was the cause of my problems. So I went to see my G.P. with the name of this disorder ready to fire at him 'Could I have Endometriosis?' Thankfully the unsympathetic doctor of my teens had moved on, and my new doctor immediately referred me to a specialist. I had a laproscopy under general anesthetic, and was diagnosed with having Endo cells adhering my womb to my bowel. They removed the cells, and informed me there had been no lasting damage and my filopian tubes were in full working order.
I now have medication to reduce my blood loss during each period, while things are not perfect, I do have more control and can get out more during my period.
In 2011 I conceived my first child.
The Impact of Endometriosis on Life, Work and Relationships
The symptoms of Endometriosis can have a knock on effect upon a sufferers life, causing depression, fatigue, and marital problems. It can also affect the sufferers ability to work or commit to engagements. Even meeting up with friends can become impossible due to pain, or a time of anxiety, worrying about things like 'What if I leak?'. Left undiagnosed, the symptoms of Endometriosis can have a psychological impact on the sufferer. They can become withdrawn, with low self esteem. Young sufferers can be made to feel like they are exaggerating their symptoms or making things up to get time off school. I myself experienced what I can only label teacher on student bullying from a Physical Education teacher who didn't believe my period cramps were any worse than anyone else's. She took great delight in humiliating me in front of my peers whenever I told her I was unable to participate.
Even now, despite having medication to reduce my blood loss I still try to stay at home on my heaviest days, or if I do go out, I do not go far. I try not to make plans to meet up with friends on those days. I definitely can't exercise or go swimming, tampons simply do not work for me. I have to put old towels on the furniture in case of leaks, and I have trouble sleeping as I worry about leaking during the night.
Unfortunately, because it is a condition that others cannot visibly see, Endometriosis sufferers are often left feeling like nobody believes them, and we are often told things like 'you just need to learn to get on with things, every woman goes through it'. When in actuality, not every woman experiences the pain, fatigue and embarrassment that an Endo sufferer has to put up with.
What to do if you suspect you may have Endometriosis
If any of this has sounded familiar, and you suspect you may also have Endometriosis you should contact your G.P. to discuss your concerns. If they think your suspicions may be correct they will refer you to a fertility specialist where you may have to have an internal examination. This is uncomfortable and embarrassing, but not particularly painful. This is generally followed by a Laproscopy, where a surgeon will look around inside you using cameras inserted through tiny incisions. (I had three, one in my navel, on one just above and either side of my pubic area).
If the surgeon finds you do have Endometriosis, they generally remove what cells they can during the Laproscopy.
While this isn't major surgery, you will feel tired from the anesthetic, and you will want to stay at home for a few days after to recover. I went back to work after two days, only to feel really weak and in pain, and ended up having the rest of the week off.
Where to look for help and advice
For more information, support and advice please take a look at the following websites:
- Endometriosis UK | the leading UK charity that supports women living with endometriosis
Find out more about endometriosis from the leading UK charity dedicated to providing information and support to those with endometriosis.
- Endometriosis.org: The Global Forum
Facts about endometriosis: symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, pain, fertility, coping, current news; worldwide support groups