Endometriosis is a condition found in women, whereby pieces of the womb lining, which is called the endometrium, are found outside the womb. These particles behave in the same way as endometrium cells within the womb i.e. they are designed to grow, thicken and then eventually be expelled from the body – this is what happens in a normal menstrual cycle. However, when these cells exist outside the womb, there is nowhere for them to go and they become trapped, often leading to complications.
Most commonly, endometriosis occurs in areas around the womb, such as the ovaries, the fallopian tubes and other organs in the pelvic and abdominal area. If left untreated, the condition can cause pain, discomfort and fertility problems.
Endometriosis is usually found in women between the ages of 25 and 49, according to Bupa, and it is estimated that 15 out of 100 premenopausal females suffer from the condition.
What causes endometriosis?
The precise cause of the condition remains unknown, although there are several theories, according to the NHS, including:
- Genetic predisposition – perhaps your mother suffered from endometriosis
- Retrograde mensturation – whereby the womb lining, instead of leaving the body, flows backwards through the fallopian tubes into the abdomen
- A poorly functioning immune system
- Certain toxins in the environment, such as dioxins
- Endometriosis cells being spread through the blood or lymphatic system
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Although symptoms vary from person to person and depend largely on which part of the body is affected by the illness. The most common ones include:
- Painful and heavy periods, as well as chronic pelvic pain
- Bleeding between periods
- Pain when having sexual intercourse
- Fertility problems
- Tiredness and depression
- Painful bowel movements or bleeding from the rectum
- Bleeding between periods
How is it diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you may have endometriosis, he or she will refer you to a gynaecologist, who will carry out an examination called a laparoscopy. This involves the insertion of a tube with a camera into the abdomen through a small cut. The camera transmits a image to a monitor, allowing the specialist to see exactly what is going on inside. The procedure is carried out under a general anaesthetic, meaning you will be asleep throughout.
It has however, recently been reported that a new method for testing could become available in the near future. The procedure involves a simple swabbing without the need for surgery and boasts a near 100% accuracy rate, according to The Daily Mail.
How is it treated?
There is no known cure for endometriosis, although there is a variety of medication available to manage the condition. Pain relief is available to ease the symptoms and various hormonal treatments aim to stop the production of oestrogen, which encourages the growth of endometriosis cells. Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove affected tissue in order to improve fertility.
One celebrity who continues to suffer from endometriosis is Padma Lakshmi.
Images: Wikimedia Commons