Endometriosis affects one in ten wahine. It’s been called a ‘silent epidemic’. A disease that is masked by many symptoms that mirror other health issues. A disease so many endure, but its impact is rarely discussed outside of conversations with friends and family, or threads on internet health blogs.
No more. March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and it’s time we started talking, learning and arming ourselves with information so this silent epidemic can come to light.
So, what is endometriosis? What does it look and feel like? And how can we support ourselves and those who have it?
The Ins and Outs of Endo.
On the outside, endometriosis can look like any of us. It does not discriminate. It could be your daughter experiencing painful periods, your friend who is struggling to become pregnant, the high-powered business woman who seems to have it all together but who goes home and collapses on the couch in agony after holding in her pain all day.
On the inside? Endometriosis happens when tissue which is similar to that which lines our uterus begins to grow outside of our uterus. Other areas it can grow include the cervix, vagina, vulva, bladder, bowel or rectum.
The cause of endometriosis is not fully understood, but researchers theorise it could be caused by issues with menstrual period flow, the immune system, or the hormone estrogen promoting endo. It is also believed there is a hereditary link between women who have endometriosis and their daughter’s getting it.
Sussing the symptoms.
The list of endo symptoms are long and vary, which is why diagnosing endometriosis can be difficult. Symptoms range from painful, long or heavy periods, or bleeding between periods, to debilitating pelvic pain. Women may experience bloating or bowel issues, which can look like symptoms of Irritable Bowel.
Combine this with fatigue, lower back pain, depression, nausea, UTIs, pain when urinating, PMS, ovulation pain, infertility and more, and you can see how a diagnosis can be hard to achieve.
The details of diagnosis.
Pelvic tests, MRIs and imaging tests can be used to help diagnose endometriosis, but the only sure way to achieve a definitive diagnosis is by undergoing a laparoscopy, which is performed under general anaesthetic by a specialised gynaecologist, where a tiny camera is inserted into the abdomen and is used to search for endometriosis, scarring and other abnormalities.
Once diagnosed a management plan can be made, which can include hormonal birth control, such as taking the pill or the insertion of an IUD. Minor pain may be managed through over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen. Women have reported success in managing their symptoms of endometriosis through changing their diet, caffeine, soft drink and alcohol intake, as well as regularly exercising.*
It is estimated that internationally there’s a seven to ten year delay in endometriosis being diagnosed from the moment a woman suspects she may have it. Which is why if you’re beginning to wonder if the pain you’re experiencing may be endo, now is the time to seek support.
The first step is to book an appointment with your general practitioner to discuss your medical history and symptoms. From there physical examinations and tests can be performed, which can lay the path to having a laparoscopy.
If you don’t feel you’re getting the answers you need, there is no shame in trying another GP, or asking a friend or family member to advocate for you. Your voice matters and it’s important you’re heard if we’re to beat this silent epidemic.
For more information visit www.nzendo.org.nz
*AWWA recommends any change in diet or lifestyle is discussed and managed with the advice of a healthcare professional.