March is endometriosis awareness month, a condition that affects 1 in 10 women in the UK but is estimated to affect even more given it goes undiagnosed in thousands of people. Around 1.5 million people are living with the condition in the UK. It is a chronic and often debilitating condition, that can cause painful and heavy periods.
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Each month these cells react in the same way to those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape.
The main symptoms for endometriosis are:
Because endometriosis manifests itself in a variety of ways and shares symptoms with other conditions, diagnosis can be difficult and often delayed. Recent research shows that there is now an average of 7.5 years between women first seeing a doctor about their symptoms and receiving a firm diagnosis. The only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is by a laparoscopy - an operation in which a camera (a laparoscope) is inserted into the pelvis via a small cut near the navel. If endometriosis is diagnosed, the endometriosis may be treated or removed for further examination during the laparoscopy.
The nearly 8 year diagnosis time is absolutely awful and is another example of women’s health being neglected and overlooked. Women will not be referred to a gynecologist for further investigation because their GP will fob them off with an irritable bowel syndrome diagnosis, or insultingly declare that they are simply overly sensitive to pain. Many women with the condition have written and spoken about how doctors have made them feel so small and irrelevant by dismissing their reports of pain. It is unacceptable that we are having to fight so hard just to be taken seriously when we say that our periods are rendering us unable to walk, or causing us to faint in the Asda.
I want it to be very clear that having a period is nothing to be ashamed of and most importantly that going to the doctors for abnormally horrific period pains is not irrational. You deserve to be taken seriously and get an accurate diagnosis.
For more information on endometriosis, please have a look at the following resources: