For many Australian women, this month is significant. March marks the opportunity to raise awareness about endometriosis.
This painful, incurable condition affects an estimated one in 10 Australian women and 176 million women worldwide, jeopardising their fertility and also impacting their everyday life.
So, what exactly is endometriosis?
Endometriosis sees the tissue that lines the uterus grow into other areas of the pelvic cavity. It most commonly affects the fallopian tubes, and the ovaries, but in rare cases can also extend beyond pelvic organs.
This errant tissue continues to act as it normally would, building up, thickening and then bleeding with each menstrual cycle. But as there’s nowhere to go, the displaced tissue becomes trapped.
When endometriosis involves the ovaries, it can also result in cysts that burst without warning which cause extreme pain. Meanwhile, irritated areas can then become fibrous scar tissue which can ultimately cause pelvic organs and tissue to adhere to each other.
Most endometriosis sufferers first present to doctors with extreme period pain and heavy monthly bleeding, but the symptoms extend far beyond that.
Pain during intercourse is often associated with endometriosis, as is pain during bowel movements and urination, especially during a period.
Fatigue is common along with anemia, constipation, diarrhea and nausea during menstruation.
The lead up to menstruation can also see endometriosis sufferers experience severe bloating and weight gain that goes beyond what most women encounter.
For other women, there are few symptoms at all and they only first learn they have endometriosis when they struggle to fall pregnant.
The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health notes if a woman believes she might have endometriosis, it’s important she sees a doctor and is referred to a gynaecologist.
“Don’t delay, as early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the severity of the disease. Many women do not get a correct diagnosis for up to 7-10 years, often because the symptoms can be different between women and can change over time.”
Although there is no cure for endometriosis, managing it varies depending on the severity of the condition.
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health notes there are three common treatments:
“Hormone therapy such as the contraceptive pill or progestins may help to reduce pain and the severity of endometriosis by suppressing the growth of endometrial cells and stopping any bleeding, including your period.
“Surgery aims to diagnose and remove as many patches of endometriosis, cysts, nodules, endometriomas (chocolate cysts) and adhesions as possible, to repair any damage caused and improve fertility
“When recurrent endometriosis is at its worst, it may lead to chronic pelvic pain, impairing the quality of life. Removal of the uterus, both ovaries and tubes (hysterectomy and bilateral salpingooophrectomy) is performed. If there is endometriosis in the bladder or bowel, the areas of endometriosis will be removed.”
As part of Endometriosis Month, Dear Molly spoke with endometriosis sufferer Linda Reed-Enever about her 20-year battle with the condition. You can read her story here in the coming days.
Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer with 20 years’ journalism experience. She loves a good old-fashioned story and getting to the heart of a great yarn. She’s also a mum to three children who have encouraged her to hone some secret skills. Nimbly navigating Lego pieces left on her loungeroom floor and creating stylish Barbie attire from all manner of household objects are just a couple of credentials she’s recently added to her resume.