Endometriosis is a painful, complicated and hard to diagnose illness. Research has shown that about 200 million women worldwide suffer from Endometriosis. That is about 10% of all women; most of whom do not even know they suffer from it. It doesn’t help to know that a diagnosis can take up to 7.5 years from the onset of symptoms. Therefore, we are unpacking this conversation by answering some of the frequently asked questions that arise from the myths and misconceptions around it.
Is Endometriosis bad period pains?
Yes, bad period pains are one of the symptoms of Endometriosis. However, it is accompanied by other symptoms such as pelvic pain, a heavy menstrual flow, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, painful sex, urination and bowel movements.
What is the first red flag?
If your monthly visit from Aunt Flo (slang for menstruation) is characterized by eye-popping, fist and teeth clenching pain coupled with a heavy flow, nausea/vomiting, and long periods, you may need to go get checked for Endometriosis. You may also experience low back and abdominal pain.
The above symptoms are however not exclusive to Endometriosis. Painful periods could be as a result of a condition known as Dysmenorrhoea, Pelvic pain could be caused by previous infections, appendicitis or a scar tissue and you could be having Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and have pelvic pain, nausea, vomiting and loose stool. It is important therefore to see a gynaecologist who can perform necessary tests to rule out the above.
Who is at risk?
Unfortunately, any woman who gets her periods is at a risk of getting Endometriosis. Some women have reported to have signs and symptoms from the very first period which can often pass as normal period pains. However, women in their 30s and 40s are more likely to get diagonised with Endometriosis. This could however be because it takes long to diagonise it especially if it is in its minimal and mild stages.
You may be more likely to get or have Endometriosis if;
If you have menstrual periods that last more than 7 days or if you have a short menstrual cycle i.e lesser than 27 days
You have never had children and/or are unable to
You have a family member- mother, sister, auntie with the same condition.
You have a health problem or issue that blocks normal flow of blood from your body.
Is it Sexually transmitted?
No. You cannot catch or transmit Endometriosis because it is a fertility health issue with no known single cause (despite there being theories on what may cause it). It is however suspected to be genetic.
Note that Endometriosis is not Endometritis which is an inflammation of the endometrium usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection.
Can I get pregnant if I suffer from Endometriosis?
Research shows that 2 in 5 women who struggle with fertility are reported to have Endometriosis. Infertility or Subfertility is a common symptom of Endometriosis that happens when the lesions are very big (or inflamed) such that they block the sperms and eggs from uniting by causing their harm, damage or scarring. This is experienced in the severe endometriosis stage.
Does getting pregnant sure or treat Endometriosis?
Endometriosis has no cure (yet). It is an illness that is managed through a variety of ways hence pregnancy; just like hormonal supplements may suppress its symptoms until after childbirth after which it is reported to come back with worse symptoms than before.
Are there stages to Endometriosis?
Yes. The stages of Endometriosis are Minimal, Mild, Moderate and Severe.
Minimal Endometriosis (Stage 1) is characterized by isolated implants and minimal adhesions.
The Mild stage (Stage 2) is characterized by superficial implants less than 5 cm in diameter with no significant adhesions.
Moderate Stage also called Stage 3 involves multiple deep implants, small cysts on one or both ovaries with the presence of flimsy adhesions.
Severe Endometriosis also Stage 4 consists of multiple deep implants, large cysts on both ovaries, and thick adhesions.
How do I get diagnosed?
While a normal pelvic exam, MRI, or ultrasound may be ways to find out if you have any growths in your pelvic area, the sure way to diagnose Endometriosis is through Laparoscopy. This is a non-invasive or invasive Laparoscopy which is a type of a surgery used by doctors to look inside your pelvic area for the endometriosis tissue.
Can I get cured?
There is no cure for Endometriosis. Treatments are available for the symptoms and other problems caused by Endometriosis. You can have pain medicine to enable you live a normal life, birth control to deal with extended or continuous cycles, Intrauterine Device (IUD) for excessive bleeding and pain, and for those trying to get pregnant your doctor may prescribe medicine that causes temporary menopause and growth of Endometriosis for a while after which when stopped may increase your chances of getting pregnant.
For severe symptoms, the doctors may advice that you have surgery to remove patches of the lesions, to restore health in your affected organs, etc.
You can also choose to manage the illness through Complementary medicine such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, homeopathy, etc. Do remember to research extensively before trying any of these remedies as some are known to be unsafe.
If there is no cure, is there a way to prevent myself from getting it?
There is no way to prevent yourself from getting Endometriosis. However, you can lower your chance of getting it by lowering the estrogen levels in your body which is responsible for thickening the lining of your uterus during your menstrual cycle.
This can be done through;
Avoid drinking too much alcohol and coffee as it raises your estrogen levels hence placing you at a higher risk
Choose the right type of birth control with the lowest levels of estrogen.
Exercise regularly- it keeps your body fat low which in turn keeps your estrogen levels low.
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