Endometriosis: The silent disease that can affect a woman’s fertility

Despite 10 percent of women suffering from endometriosis at some point in their life, the condition – which can be incredibly painful and cause infertility – is rarely spoken about. But the more you know about the disease, the better equipped you are at identifying its symptoms and seeking help. 

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is when a female’s body tissue, similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium), grows outside the womb in other parts of their body. Normally this tissue layer is what is shed each month during a woman’s period, or is where an embryo settles and grows during pregnancy. But when it starts to grow in other places it can cause a LOT of problems. Including pain, infertility and if pregnant, premature birth. Most often endometriosis affects the reproductive organs, but it’s also frequently found in the bowel and bladder, and even in muscles, joints, the lungs and brain. Unfortunately if your mother or sister has it then you’re more likely to inherit the disease too. Endometriosis also currently costs Australia $7.7 billion annually in loss of work productivity and healthcare.

Women experiencing an endometriosis attack often can’t go to work for days

The signs and symptoms

Some women experience no symptoms whatsoever, however for most the biggest symptom is chronic, debilitating pain every month around their period. A lot worse than the normal monthly menstruation aches, this is pain which stops you from functioning properly, can render you immobile and affects not only your daily life but your mental state as well. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Ovulation pain
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination
  • Pain in your pelvic region, lower back or legs
  • Frequent urination or trouble holding on
  • Heavy or irregular bleeding

Usually the symptoms appear when you’re a teenager, but often you’re not diagnosed until when you’re in your late 20s or 30s and pain either increases or you’re having difficulty falling pregnant. The only way to be properly diagnosed is for a laparoscopy to take place – minor surgery through your belly button and a biopsy (tissue sample) taken.

How it affects fertility

Around 30% of women with endometriosis have difficulty falling pregnant, often due to the damage it has caused such as scarring of the tubes and ovaries which can prevent the embryo travelling down the tube and implanting in the uterus. In some cases where treatment isn’t effective, IVF is used to help a woman with the condition conceive. Recent studies have also shown that women with endometriosis who do fall pregnant are often at risk of delivering early, needing a c-section, bleeding, pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure. Although, many women with endometriosis do successfully conceive and deliver healthy babies, so it’s important to not give up hope.

How to treat it

There are three different types of treatment for endometriosis: medications (hormonal or pain relief), surgical operations (via laparoscopy or laparotomy, where tissue and scar damage is removed) and complementary treatments (such as physiotherapy, psychology, alternate medicine, etc.). Unfortunately there is no cure, even removing the womb via a hysterectomy will not work, but by exploring the treatment options with your doctor you might find one that works best for you.

Celebrities get it too

Thank you for all the love & concern that's been pouring in since Tuesday. Although I'm much healthier than I was a year ago, complications arose from my most recent endometriosis surgery. When the healthcare of so many American women, especially our trans sisters, is at-risk- or already nonexistent- I am lucky to be in the position to seek help when I'm in pain. To those in that privileged spot- never forget that we are blessed and can pay it forward by supporting Planned Parenthood and LGBTQ clinics like Callen-Lorde with our 💰 and ⌚️. I also want to remind all the women suffering from chronic illness that we aren't weak- quite the opposite, actually. We do our jobs with skill even when we're struggling. We care for our families even when we can hardly care for ourselves. We serve major face on a red carpet when we feel like lying face down would be more appropriate. I'll always be proud of those Met Gala pics- not just because I felt beautiful, surrounded by art and magic, hugging my best friend tightly, but because they're evidence that women contain steely multitudes. Just that morning @dianafalzone sued Fox after they took her off air for disclosing her endometriosis. But they're the ones who lost when they lost her, because everyone who's anyone knows that if you can battle chronic illness there's nothing you can't take on.

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

Recently, more and more famous people have been speaking out about their battle with endometriosis, which has been a huge comfort to other women and young girls around the world suffering from the disease. Celebrities such as Jaime King, Julianne Hough, Emma Bunton, Cyndi Lauper and Ada Nicodemou have openly discussed their struggles (including several fertility issues). Lena Dunham even famously had to cancel press tours because of it and more recently wound up in hospital for a fifth endometriosis surgery, mere hours after putting on a brave face on the red carpet at this year’s Met Gala.

To all the women out there suffering with this condition, remember you’re not alone and we wish you all the best with your treatment and fertility goals. If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of endometriosis, please speak to your doctor.

Do you suffer from endometriosis? How has it impacted your day-to-day life?

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