I was always the young girl who, on family outings, was the reason why we had to turn back home because I was crying and unnaturally doubled over with menstrual cramps on the back seat of my dad’s car (head on my very understanding cousin Meagan’s lap). I would have to miss a day of school because of the pain. People thought I was being dramatic. This is something that every single woman of child bearing age experiences once a month. You are just meant to deal. Right?
Firstly, allow me to explain what menstrual cramps feel like when you have endometriosis. Your womb literally feels like it is being ripped to shreds internally, with waves of unbearable pain passing through your abdomen and lower body. Back, legs, everything. (Apologies if you are squeamish), but every time you move, you release an abnormal amount of blood, and very often clots. I have found some wonderful over the counter drugs like Nurofen and Mybulen to help me get by. But boy oh by, those early teenage years were an absolute killer.
Now you’re probably asking yourself – surely doctors could have diagnosed and treated me accordingly at a young age?? Unfortunately not. Even though I have been to multiple gynecologists and GPs throughout my adolescence, no one could pinpoint or explain just what the hell was wrong. It is almost as though endometriosis was unheard of in the 90s and early 2000s. Fast forward to 2018 and after many hours of research, I finally understand what a big deal it actually is.
March is ‘endometriosis awareness’ month, so I thought I would try clarify and spread awareness about this enigmatic condition. It affects 10% of the world’s female population. It also gets its name from the word endometrium, the tissue that normally lines the uterus or womb. Endometriosis happens when this tissue grows outside of your uterus and on other areas in your body where it doesn’t belong. Such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, bowel and bladder. In severe and rare cases, even the lungs and brain.
Symptoms include intense and abnormal pain (this is the most common symptom), spotting, stomach or digestive problems and infertility / not being able to easily conceive.
How do you detect endometriosis? Well you can do so by asking your gynae to conduct a pelvic exam or ultrasound test to check for ovarian tests. The smaller areas of endometriosis are harder to feel and detect. Surgery, called a laparoscopy, is the only way to be sure, and have it removed accordingly. Although once the problem areas are removed, it grows back. So it is a never ending struggle.
The burning question for many women is…can you conceive once you have been diagnosed with endometriosis? Yes you can. But may find it harder to do so. Also depends on the severity and stage of the condition. With the help of artificial insemination and IVF (in vitro fertilisation), it is possible. No one knows exactly how endometriosis might cause infertility (I know…it’s literally 2018!), but some possible causes may include:
- Patches of endometriosis block off or change the shape of the pelvis and reproductive organs. This can make it harder for the sperm to find the egg.
- The immune system, which normally helps defend the body against disease, attacks the embryo.
- The endometrium (the layer of the uterine lining where implantation happens) does not develop as it should.
So if are having difficulty conceiving, or are experiencing unbearable periods…I urge you to make an appointment with a fertility specialist (not a gynecologist), as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you are in your thirties and then try figure it out. I feel like there is huge need to educate young women about endometriosis. We just don’t understand and acknowledge it enough, and I therefore encourage open and unashamed discussion.