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Is it endometriosis or something else?

We take a look at the symptoms of endometriosis and other conditions it can be mistaken for, and share a video of our Consultant gynaecologist Miss Zoe Woodward from BMI The Chaucer Hospital giving advice on the condition.

Endometriosis affects one in ten women in the UK, yet the average time it takes to get diagnosed is over seven years.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a common gynaecological disorder that affects around 10% of women during their reproductive years. It is the second most common gynaecological disorder in the UK, after fibroids.

The condition occurs when cells normally found in the womb lining grow elsewhere in the body.

Cells in the womb build up and break down each month and are released through your period. The cells that live outside of the womb behave in the same way but they can’t leave the body by the same route.

This can cause pelvic pain, heavy periods and other chronic symptoms that can seriously affect your quality of life.

What causes endometriosis?

The exact cause of endometriosis is not known, though it is generally associated with menstruation.

Factors that may cause (or combine to cause) endometriosis include:

  • Retrograde menstruation – during your period, some of your womb lining flows backwards and into your abdomen
  • Genetics – it’s thought that endometriosis could run in families
  • Lymphatic or circulatory spread – endometriosis particles may be carried around your body by your blood or lymphatic system
  • Immune dysfunction – when your immune system can’t fight endometriosis
  • Environmental causes – some studies have suggested our environments could affect our likelihood to develop endometriosis
  • Metaplasia – some people believe that other cells can change into endometriosis cells, perhaps due to changes in your body

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

Symptoms of endometriosis vary a lot between women. Some women don’t show any signs, while others find their symptoms significantly impact their day-to-day lives.

It’s important to note that more intense symptoms don’t always mean more advanced endometriosis, and vice versa.

The most common symptoms of endometriosis include:

  • Painful, heavy or irregular periods
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Fatigue
  • Fertility problems
  • Pelvic pain

You might also experience other pelvic pain, pain when you urinate, spotting between periods, irritable bowels, and back pain, among others.

These symptoms can all be signs of something else. If you think you might have endometriosis, it’s important to speak to a doctor.

What else can endometriosis be mistaken for?

The symptoms of endometriosis are very similar to those of some other common conditions.

These include fibroids, which cause pelvic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome, which has symptoms such as stomach cramps and disrupted bowel movements.

This is one of the reasons endometriosis can be difficult to diagnose.

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

The only conclusive way to diagnose endometriosis is with a laparoscopy.

Your surgeon will make a small cut near your belly button so that they can insert a camera into your pelvis and look for signs of endometriosis.

How is endometriosis treated?

There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments available that can reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. You might also be recommended surgery.

The main treatments to reduce or manage symptoms are:

  • Hormones
  • Pain relief

These treatments can reduce symptoms and may slow the progression of the condition, but they can't remove it. Surgery is currently the only way to remove endometriosis adhesions or cysts.

Your gynaecologist will help you decide on the best treatment for you. This will depend on factors personal to you, including your age, your symptoms, and whether you are looking to become pregnant.

How can endometriosis affect fertility?

Many women worry that endometriosis will stop them from getting pregnant. However, you should still be able to conceive naturally if you have the condition.

You may find it harder to conceive, particularly if your endometriosis is severe, but there are treatments available that can help you.

If you are hoping to get pregnant, your gynaecologist will be able to offer personalised advice.

Will endometriosis affect my pregnancy?

Once you are pregnant, the condition should not cause complications. You should expect to have a normal pregnancy even if you have endometriosis.

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