Affecting around 1.5 million women and those assigned female at birth in the UK1, endometriosis is a long-term condition where cells, similar to the lining of the womb, start to grow in other areas of the body, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
It can affect women of any age, and due to the symptoms being the same as many other conditions, and in the case of very heavy periods and painful periods which in some cases is viewed as “normal”, it can take some time to be fully diagnosed.
According to Endometriosis UK it takes on average “7.5 years between women first seeing a doctor about their symptoms and receiving a firm diagnosis.”2
We take a look at what the symptoms are, what treatments are available and share some of the real-life questions sent to our Ask the Expert team.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
There are numerous symptoms for endometriosis and the intensity can vary for different women, however the common symptoms are:
- Heavy, or irregular periods
- Pelvic or back pain that is usually worse during your period but can last for up to 3 out of 4 weeks a month, worsening at the time of your period
- Severe period pains that can make it difficult to continue your usual daily activities
- Pain during or after sex
- Difficulties with conceiving
- Painful bowel movements or passing urine during your period
- Bladder pain and/or more frequent urinary infections, if endometriosis is affecting the bladder
- Nausea or changes to bowel motions while on your period
These symptoms can have a big impact on a women's quality of life, with some finding that this can lead to symptoms of depression.
How is it different from period pain?
Period pain is common for lots of women during their menstrual cycle, however in endometriosis the pain is usually more severe. Period pain itself is caused by the walls of the womb contracting, and during a period the walls start to contract more vigorously.
When the wall of the womb contracts, it compresses the blood vessels lining your womb. This temporarily cuts off the blood supply – and oxygen supply – to your womb. Without oxygen, the tissues in your womb release chemicals that trigger pain.3
In endometriosis the pain is caused by tissue that has grown outside the uterus. It is during a period that these endometrial cells break down and bleed, however, this internal bleeding has no way of leaving the body which results in inflammation, intense pain and a build-up of scar tissue.
It also commonly results in cyst formation known as chocolate cysts. This is a build-up of old blood as a result of the cells bleeding into the area locally; and is found on imaging and laparoscopy examination. The cysts can sit anywhere within the pelvis where the cells have formed, with the ovaries being a common location.