Ending the agony of Endometriosis

-Apr 18, CAROLINE BLIGHT, Health -

By the end of this year it should be possible to pay £250 for an endometriosis test to find out whether you have the crippling condition. This is massive news to the 1 in 10 women of reproductive age in the UK, who live with the pain and debilitating symptoms of endometriosis. Currently it takes over seven years for a woman to be diagnosed meaning worry, discomfort and the ordeal of many tests to get their condition named. It can be difficult to diagnose endometriosis because the symptoms can vary so much – it is also similar to other conditions in its symptoms. And it can be tricky to spot as scans, blood tests and internal examinations often come back as ‘normal’ when you are suffering from this condition.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition where cells like the ones in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body. Each month these cells react in the same way to those in the womb – they build up then break down and bleed – except where the cells in the womb are able to leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape. The resulting condition causes painful or heavy periods and can also lead to infertility, fatigue and bowel and bladder problems. Any woman between the age of puberty and menopause could suffer the condition and it’s the second most common gynecological condition in the UK – affecting as many women as are affected by diabetes.

It’s important to seek medical advice if you think there is any chance you could have endometriosis because an early diagnosis can affect your future health, in particular fertility. “As the severity of the endometriosis increases, scar tissue – also known as adhesions – between the organs of the pelvis is created,” explains Dr Victoria Walker, from Institut Marques.“These adhesions distort the pelvic anatomy so there is higher possibility the egg will get trapped and prevented from travelling down the fallopian tube,  so the chance of natural conception decreases.”

Although surgery to remove endometriosis tissue is available and can help improve your chances of getting pregnant, experts concede there’s no guarantee it will work. Endometriosis can also affect the quantity and quality of eggs that are produced causing further fertility complications which is why endometriosis in women with infertility is as high as to 30–50%.

Can endometriosis be cured?

There is currently no cure for endometriosis and no-one knows why some women develop it while others don’t. For now, it is a case of managing the symptoms so they don’t impact on your life too much. “The best form of treatment will depend on the severity of the condition, the symptoms experienced, and whether the individual is trying to become pregnant,” says Dr Walker, who is a fertility expert. 

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How can endometriosis be treated?

Heat therapy from hot baths and hot water bottles can give localised pain relief andIbuprofen, Diclofenac or Mefanamic acid block the production of prostaglandins, which cause inflammation in the body. “Physiotherapy can help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, reduce pain, and manage stress and anxiety,” explains Dr Walker. “Hormone therapies can also be used as a treatment for Endometriosis, or as part of a combined therapy. These hormonal therapies – which include the oral contraceptive pill, progestins, and gonadotrophin-releasing hormones – aim to reduce the severity of the condition by suppressing the growth of endometrial cells and stopping any bleeding.” In some cases anti-depressants are recommended as they have a side effect of helping to block neurotransmitters carrying messages of pain into the brain, they are often prescribed for the management of chronic pain.

Many women have found their symptoms have improved with complementary therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, reflexology and osteopathy. There are also many women who believe their symptoms have been helped by a change in diet. An ‘endometriosis diet’ is high in omega-3 fats and fibre but restricts the amount of animal products, caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars and fried food. Other sufferers say gluten exacerbates their symptoms and is best avoided.  In all cases it’s very specific to the sufferer and a matter of trial and error.

For those suffering severe symptoms, different types of surgery such as laparoscopy (keyhole surgery), laparotomy (surgery through abdomen) and hysterectomy (removal of the womb) are also available.

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Can you get pregnant if you have endometriosis?

About one third of women with endometriosis have trouble with fertility and struggle to get pregnant and it’s one of the leading causes of infertility. “Endometriosis does not necessarily cause infertility however, depending on the patient and the severity of the condition, it can create some challenges,” confirms Dr Walker. “A specialist will be able to test your ovarian reserve via a simple blood test, which can help predict your ability to conceive. If your chances of falling pregnant are naturally low, a specialist can also provide insight into the best treatment options available – such as egg freezing, IVF, or egg donation.”

But whether or not you are trying for a baby, you do not need to suffer the discomfort of endometriosis, there are an ever-increasing range of treatment options, as research continues to understand the reasons for this condition to develop, which can relieve the pain, it’s just a case of finding the right combination for you.

If you have enjoyed this feature you may also be interested in How to Spot a Female Heart Attack and find out more about the Health Benefits of Green Tea.

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