11% of women of a reproductive age are diagnosed with Endometriosis in Australia. It is a chronic condition that can progressively spread inside the body, and unfortunately, can be quite painful and can cause infertility.
What exactly is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is where cells like the ones found in the lining of the female uterus (endometrial cells) begin to grow outside the uterus – most commonly on pelvic organs and the inside lining of the abdomen. Some forms of endometriosis grow superficially on the surface of the body’s internal walls, whereas others can grow deep into the body’s tissues.
Unlike the cells found in the uterus, endometrial cell found in other areas of the body can form lesions or patches. These lesions are affected by the same hormonal cycles that control your period and ovulation and may bleed or leak during the menstruation window which causes inflammation and scarring. They can even develop into cysts on your ovaries.
How does Endometriosis affect fertility?
Since endometriosis is more commonly found in the pelvic area, it is not uncommon for it to grow on the ovaries and fallopian tubes. When the endometriosis is severe enough, it can damage your tubes and ovaries or trigger inflammation in your pelvis which will make it harder to fall pregnant.
That being said, not all women diagnosed with endometriosis experience infertility or any pregnancy complications and even if you do, there are options available to you.
How do you diagnose Endometriosis?
They symptoms of endometriosis vary significantly from woman to woman, and the number of symptoms a woman experiences has no relationship with how severe their endometriosis is. In fact, the key symptom of endometriosis is pain which may be mild or severe depending on where the endometrial cells are growing. Other physical symptoms can include:
- heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding,
- bladder problems,
- pain with vaginal intercourse and
- mid-cycle ovulation pain
Many of these symptom can be hard to separate from normal experiences during female menstruation which is why diagnosis can be tricky and requires the expertise of specialist gynaecologist. An ultrasound can be performed to look for signs of growth in the body’s tissue but an endometriosis can only be confirmed through keyhole surgery (laparoscopy).
During the procedure, your gynaecologist can look directly inside your abdominal area for signs of endometriosis while you’re under anaesthesia. Only this way are we able to confirm its location, size and severity.
How do you treat Endometriosis?
The only way to “treat” endometriosis is through surgery (e.g. a laparoscopy) to remove any endometriosis that has been detected and repair the damage to the body’s tissues. However, not all women diagnosed with endometriosis require or want to undergo surgery.
In that case, there are several options for managing endometriosis including:
- Pain relief medication– medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage the pain to allow women to participate more fully in their life
- Hormone therapy– hormone therapies such as the pill and progestogens can suppress endometrial cell growth and stop any bleeding, which can reduce the pain associated with endometrioses.
If you’re experiencing heightened pain during your periods, it is worthwhile seeking out a specialist to understand why. If you do receive a diagnosis of endometriosis, we can help you understand you options depending on your lifestyle and the quality of life you desire.
Dr Joseph Jabbour is a gynaecology specialist who offers caring and professional medical advice for the diagnosis, management, and treatment of all kinds of female reproductive issues from cervical testing to minor gynaecological procedures.
He takes an evidence-based approach and is passionate about ensuring his patients are well-informed and empowered to make the best decisions for their health.