What's Endometriosis? Ask The Body Experts

If you have heavy or painful periods, with pain after sex and spotting, you could be experiencing symptoms of endometriosis.

With one in 10 women suffering, and it taking an average of seven and a half years to receive a firm diagnosis, we think it's super important to learn as much as possible about this painful condition.

So today, we hear all about endometriosis from our Pink Parcel GP Dr Tatiana Lapa.

Tampons on pink background

Endometriosis symptoms

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Back pain during menstruation
  • Severe period pain and cramps that prevent you from doing normal activities during your period
  • Painful bowel movements or urination during menstruation
  • Heavy bleeding during periods
  • Experiencing pain during or after sex
  • Difficulty conceiving
  • Nausea, constipation and diarrhoea
  • Blood in your urine during your period
  • Spotting between periods

Spotting the signs

Endometriosis is a condition where pieces of your womb lining (endometrium) are found outside of the womb – this may be on the ovaries, around your tubes, even on the bowel. This endometrium will behave in a similar way to your actual womb lining – so every month it will build up and shed.

Dr Lapa explains that the main theory behind endometriosis is that when you bleed, some of the endometrial tissue flows ‘up’ instead of ‘down’ – ending up in the tubes, around the ovaries or in the abdomen. This, however, is not the only explanation for endometriosis and other links such as genetics, low immunity, and cellular changes (metaplasia) have also been suggested.

The symptoms of the condition can depend on which structure the endometrium is on, so what should we be you looking out for?

"The main symptoms of endometriosis include painful or heavy periods, pain in the lower abdomen, pelvis or lower back pain during and after sex, bleeding between periods, bladder irritability, bloating, diarrhoea and sometimes fertility problems," says Dr Lapa.

If you have symptoms that may suggest endometriosis – see your GP who will examine you to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms and may suggest doing further investigations such as an ultrasound scan.

"The only sure way of confirming the condition is to have keyhole surgery to insert a camera into the abdomen and directly look for endometriosis. This is done by a specialist Gynaecologist and if they find endometriosis (it looks like small brownish-red blobs) they can treat it at the same time,"  explains Dr Lapa.

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Endometriosis treatment

If you've been diagnosed with endometriosis, one of the first questions you may have is whether or not it is curable. Dr Lapa says that endometriosis can be treated either by switching off your endometrium, to stop it growing and shedding every month or by surgically removing the little pieces of endometrial tissue.

"The best option for you depends on how it is affecting you, whether you’re trying for a baby, your age and many other factors. So if you have the condition, you will need to speak to your doctor in depth about what you want to achieve."

"Sometimes, just some better painkillers during your period will do the trick and save you needing surgery. Painkillers have a bad reputation and many patients say they don’t want to ‘just dull the pain’. But actually, in this condition, they can be very useful. Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen help reduce the inflammation caused by endometriosis and therefore not only help with pain but also help address the cause of the pain."

Is having a hysterectomy a treatment for endometriosis?

For some women, a hysterectomy can put an end to painful endometriosis symptoms but unfortunately this cannot be guaranteed.

The actress and influencer, Lena Dunham, suffers from endometriosis and has undergone a hysterectomy to remove her womb and left ovaries.

After a hysterectomy has been performed, the woman's periods will stop and it is no longer possible for her to get pregnant. A hysterectomy is a major operation that will only be carried out if all other treatment options have already been explored.