March is acknowledged worldwide as Endometriosis Awareness Month.
Endometriosis affects up to one in ten women of child-bearing age. It is a condition where endometrial tissue, which normally lines the uterus, grows outside the uterus instead and attaches to other tissues or organs.
Symptoms of endometriosis include heavy, painful or irregular periods, abdominal, back or pelvic pain, bowel or bladder problems, and premenstrual symptoms. For some women, the most distressing symptom is reduced fertility – having endometriosis can make it difficult to get pregnant.
Some women worry that they may never have children. This is not necessarily true – only 30% of women with endometriosis experience fertility problems. In these cases, having the endometrial tissue removed surgically via a laparoscopy can increase the chances of falling pregnant. If surgery is unsuccessful, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) can be an option, but it is important that the endometriosis is properly treated first as IVF treatments can aggravate the condition.
The good news is that women with endometriosis who do become pregnant often report that their symptoms are alleviated during pregnancy, as they are no longer menstruating. Unfortunately, the effect is usually temporary and symptoms will often reoccur after the baby is born and periods return. Hormonal therapies (such as the Pill) may be used as a maintenance treatment option after pregnancy, but this is not suitable for women trying to conceive.
Michelle’s journey with endometriosis began in her early teens. Since some of her friends had period pain, she thought her pain was normal. She didn’t know that hers was much more severe than the other girls’ pain. By the age of 28 the pain was crippling, with Michelle huddled in her bed for days unable to go to work.
Eventually she was diagnosed with endometriosis and fibroids. A laparoscopy helped; however, the doctor told Michelle it was unlikely she would ever have children, which was devastating for her. Happily for her, soon after getting engaged, she found out she was pregnant and her little boy was born healthy and beautiful. Unfortunately, her endometriosis returned following the birth. While she’d love to give her little boy a brother or sister, she doesn’t know if it will happen.
If you have endometriosis or experience the symptoms of endometriosis, see your health practitioner for advice about appropriate treatment options.
To watch Jean Hailes gynaecologist and founding director Dr Elizabeth Farrell explain endometriosis in simple terms, or to read more about endometriosis, visit jeanhailes.org.au.
1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)