RURAL HEALTH MATTERS
Don’t grin and bear it – What you need to know about Endometriosis
Endometriosis is one of the most common health issues experienced among women and one of the leading causes of infertility. It can impact on all aspects of their life not just physically and emotionally, but also on their relationships and their mental health. It is estimated about 700,000 Australian women – or one in every ten, between the ages of 10 and 55 – will have endometriosis at some point in their life. It is also estimated that the disease costs Australia about $6 billion annually in lost productivity as women require time away from work.
What is Endometriosis?
It is a recurring disease which causes tissue similar to the lining of the womb to grow in other parts of the body. While endometriosis most often affects the reproductive organs, it is frequently found in the bowel and bladder and sometimes in muscles, joints, the lungs and even the brain. In severe cases, endometriosis can cause pelvic scarring, blocking of the fallopian tubes, and cysts known as ‘endometriomas’ (chocolate cysts) which can stick to surrounding organs – such as the bowel, bladder and uterus – and can lead to infertility and the inability to conceive children. Unfortunately it can be tricky to diagnose, as only surgery to obtain tissue samples can confirm the disease. A delay in diagnosis of between 7 to 10 years is common because of misdiagnosis and ‘normalising’ of the pain felt by women and girls.
Don’t grin and bear it
It can be surprising to find out that teenage girls are not too young to have endometriosis and genes may play a role. Adolescent girls with a mother or sister with endometriosis have an increased chance of also having the disease, with two thirds of women experiencing symptoms before their 20th birthday. Early treatment and diagnosis reduce the long term impacts on endometriosis so don’t grin and bear it - pain is not normal. If you or your daughter is experiencing pain and discomfort, missing school, work, social activities or turning to coffee and painkillers just to be able to carry on, then it is time to seek help and visit your local GP. Treatments for endometriosis include: • Healthy diet and exercise – Seeing a dietician and altering eating habits along with regular exercise about four times a week can relieve symptoms naturally. • Pain management – Treating the pain with paracetamol can ease symptoms. A pain specialist may be needed to help in severe cases.
• Physiotherapy – Specialist pelvic pain physiotherapy is now recognised as an integrated part of managing pelvic pain.
• Surgery – Removal of the endometriosis via keyhole surgery confirms the disease. It can also improve fertility rates in mild to moderate cases, with possible repeated surgery required depending on severity. • Hormone treatment – Suppression of further endometriosis by hormonal methods (injections, implant or the pill) can prevent new endometriosis from forming and may provide respite from symptoms.
• Fertility treatment – Assisted conception or IVF is an option for women when pregnancy does not occur naturally.