Affecting one in nine women and those who are gender diverse, endometriosis is a common condition that often goes undiagnosed, causing chronic symptoms for many years. It is characterised by tissue, similar to the lining of the womb, growing outside of the uterus in other parts of the body – such as in the pelvis, fallopian tubes, ovaries or bowel.
This month is Endometriosis Awareness Month, aiming to raise awareness to help shorten the time it takes for people with endometriosis to be diagnosed.
To learn more about endometriosis, we spoke with Obstetrics and Gynaecology Consultant, Dr Stephanie Jackson, and Women’s Health Department Deputy Clinical Director, Dr Patricia Vosdoganes.
Read their responses below.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Symptoms of endometriosis include pelvic pain, painful periods, painful intercourse, infertility, and painful bowel motions or urinating.
The amount of disease that a patient has does not correspond well with their symptoms. Sometimes severe endometriosis is found incidentally, and the patient is asymptomatic. Sometimes one small spot is seen at surgery, but the patient has severe debilitating symptoms.
Is the cause of endometriosis known, and if so, what is it or are there contributing factors?
As to what causes endometriosis, there is no definitive answer yet. However, there are many theories, such as abnormal bleeding back into the pelvis during menstruation, cellular and lymphatic abnormalities within the pelvis, and genetic or immune influences. Endometriosis can run in families, though specific genes predicting the disease have not yet been found.
How is endometriosis diagnosed and how is it treated?
Many patients who we see with endometriosis have lived with painful periods for many years and thought that what they were experiencing was ‘normal’. If you are experiencing pelvic pain or painful periods, the best place to start would be with your GP.
Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ for endometriosis, but it can be treated in many ways, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the goals of care (e.g. treating pain or improving fertility).
Treatments may include hormones to stop your periods, other pain-relieving medications and methods, and surgery to remove as much disease as possible.
Pelvic pain should also be investigated for other common causes of pain, including bowel and urinary disease. It is important to have a broad team of health professionals to care for those suffering with pelvic pain and endometriosis, including, among others, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, psychologists and fertility specialists.
Why is it important to raise awareness about endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a very common condition, with approximately 830,000 endometriosis patients in Australia and 200 million worldwide. There are many treatment options available that can greatly improve quality of life.
The aim of increasing awareness of endometriosis is to reduce the time it takes for people with symptoms to seek help and treatment. On average it currently takes 6.5 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis. Remember, debilitating period pain is not ‘normal’ and does not need to go untreated!
If you think you may need help, please see your GP or Gynaecologist for advice.