Women's Health Wednesday March 4, 2015

Endometriosis 101: What You Should Know

Endometriosis Awareness Week is designed to get women with the condition talking about the pain they experience during their periods. The campaign's philosophy – 'It's ok to talk. Period.' - encourages women to break down the taboo around this subject and communicate about their periods freely to raise awareness of what endometriosis is, what to expect and what to do about it.

One in ten women in the UK are affected by endometriosis and the condition can be chronic and debilitating, resulting in extremely heavy periods, infertility, fatigue and even bowel and bladder problems.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition where cells similar to those found in the womb lining are also found in other parts of the body, such as the ovaries, pelvic lining or top of the vagina. While these cells normally build up and break down inside the womb, causing bleeding, endometriosis means the blood has no way of escaping. This causes inflammation and pain in the pelvic region as the womb tries to expel the lining.

Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about endometriosis.

Q: How do I know if I have endometriosis, is there a way it can be diagnosed?

A: Endometriosis can only be diagnosed through a laparoscopy, a minor surgical procedure that can determine whether there are signs of the condition. While there is no cure for endometriosis, you can find relief for your symptoms with hormonal treatments such as contraception, pain relief or surgery.

Q: Is endometriosis an infection or could it turn into cancer?

A: It is not an infection and cannot be transmitted. It is also not cancer, but all benign tissue in the body has the potential to turn cancerous, so this is also true for endometrial tissue.

Q: Will I be able to get pregnant if I have endometriosis?

A: Endometriosis affecting the pelvic region can impact on your chances of getting pregnant. Around half of women with the condition experience fertility problems. Pregnancy won't cure endometriosis either but some women report that their symptoms are considerably reduced. There are various other factors that could impact your fertility aside from endometriosis, so it's important to be aware of your reproductive health and to practice safe sex.

Q: Are certain people more at risk of having endometriosis than others?

A: Endometriosis usually affects women during their childbearing or 'reproductive' years, when they are menstruating. Around 176 million women worldwide are thought to be affected, regardless of any other factors.

Q: What are some of the most common symptoms of endometriosis?

A: One of the main symptoms is pelvic pain, particularly during menstruation, ovulation and sexual intercourse. Women with endometriosis may experience other symptoms during their monthly cycle, including heavy or irregular periods, fatigue and bowel and bladder problems.

Q: How can I find out if I have endometriosis, where can I go for a diagnosis?

A: It's highly recommended that you visit your GP for a consultation if you think you might have endometriosis. The condition can only be diagnosed with a laparoscopy, a surgical procedure that looks inside the abdomen, as the symptoms alone are not definitive. The procedure is done under general anesthetic, and a small camera is inserted via a small cut near the navel. The surgeon will check for signs of the condition such as cysts and scar tissue.

To find out more about endometriosis and to get support and advice about the condition, you can visit Endometriosis UK.

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