March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and while 176 million females worldwide are affected by this painful condition, it is not a well-known disease. So just what is endometriosis, and what do you need to know about it?
Endometriosis, commonly abbreviated to “endo”, is a painful reproductive disease in which the tissue lining the uterus (the endometrium) migrates outside of the womb and implants in other areas of the body. This tissue behaves like the lining to the uterus behaves – when pregnancy does not occur, your uterine lining sheds and you have your period. If you have endo, the tiny particles of tissue that have migrated outside of your uterus will implant themselves elsewhere and react to the same hormones that tell your uterine lining you’re not pregnant, therefore breaking down and bleeding. But because this tissue is not in the uterus, it has nowhere to go and no way to leave your body. This results in internal bleeding, inflammation, and severe pain, as well as scarring and the development of cysts and lesions over time.
There is no cure for endo, which affects nearly 176 million females worldwide, from adolescence to post-menopause. Many women who have endo complain of “killer period cramps” that inhibit their ability to function normally during menstruation, but there are many related symptoms which endo sufferers report, such as:
- Chronic pelvic pain, including lower back pain and abdominal pain
- Pain during sex
- Pain during urination
- Heavy or lengthy periods
- Premenstrual spotting
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Endo can also compromise your fertility. So if you have been trying to conceive, it hasn’t happened for you, and you have any of the above symptoms, there may be a link, as endo can cause scarring of your reproductive organs, which inhibits conception. The exact cause of endo remains a mystery and it does seem to abate during menopause, but there are treatments in the meantime. Our best advice: If you’re suffering from extremely painful periods, pelvic pain, and other related pain, don’t hesitate to visit your GP – especially if you’re thinking of getting pregnant.
Endometriosis New Zealand (ENZ) is a non-government-funded charitable trust promoting awareness of endo, providing information and fundraising to support research into endo, its causes and treatments. Their support line (0800 733 277) and website (www.nzendo.co.nz) are excellent resources if you want to know more about endo or think you might have endometriosis.
Likewise, Endometriosis.org (www.endometriosis.org) facilitates collaboration and information sharing between women with endometriosis, physicians, scientists, and others interested in the disease.
Don’t suffer in silence or put on a brave face – there are treatments for endo, and you should never feel ashamed to ask for help.
~ Katherine Granich