You might be suffering from endometriosis and not even know it. Here’s what to look out for.
It’s easy to brush off pelvic pain, especially when it occurs during that time of the month. But if you seem to get it a lot, it could be endometriosis, a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus also grows outside of it.
With this condition, which can happen to anyone who still gets her period, this tissue usually also makes its way to the ovaries, fallopian tubes or intestines. It can even creep onto, or into, other organs such as the brain. As if this doesn’t sound scary enough, it can also involve a lot of pain and blood.
Many women aren’t even aware that they have it. “It’s thought that [around one in 10 women] may have endometriosis. However, it’s hard to know the exact percentage as many women who have it experience few or no symptoms. Other women experience symptoms, but don’t seek medical help,” says Professor Fong Yoke Fai, Senior Consultant and Head of Benign Gynaecology Division at the National University Hospital Women’s Centre.
The warning signs
Pelvic pain is the most common symptom, but other signs include menstrual cramps, pain during or after sex, and pain during urination and bowel movement. You may also experience spotting between periods or very heavy menstrual flows that require you to change your tampon or pad every hour for at least a day.
However, it’s important to note that not all women with endometriosis experience these symptoms, which makes it difficult for some sufferers to get diagnosed. Also, the severity of the symptoms does not necessarily correspond to the severity of the condition.
Left unchecked, it can lead to further complications. For instance, since the clump of tissue that’s gone astray has no way of exiting the body, it becomes trapped, which may lead to the formation of cysts. It could also cause internal bleeding and pelvic tissues and organs sticking to one another.
Endometriosis can also lead to infertility. “Research in the US has shown that endometriosis may be found in 24 percent to 50 percent of women who experience infertility. Egg or embryo quality may also be affected in the inflammatory environment,” says Professor Fong.
If you don’t experience the other symptoms of endometriosis but struggle with infertility or have a history of miscarriages, there could be cause for concern. Often, women with “silent endometriosis” only find out while undergoing an unrelated abdominal surgery.
Diagnosis and treatment
A pelvic exam or ultrasound scan can be conducted to diagnose the condition, but such tests aren’t always conclusive. “To be 100 percent certain, your doctor may refer you to a gynaecological surgeon for a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy,” adds Professor Fong. A laparoscopy involves the insertion of a special telescope into the abdomen through a small cut near the navel. It allows the surgeon to check your pelvic organs and extract tissue for examination.
As of now, there is no cure for endometriosis, but there are several treatments that can relieve symptoms and help with infertility.
Patients can undergo hormone therapy to slow down the growth of tissue by taking contraceptive or progestin-only pills. Surgery is also an option. It involves removing abnormal growths and scar tissue while preserving the uterus and ovaries, improving your chances of pregnancy.
If you suspect you have endometriosis, speak to your doctor. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Celebs with endometriosis
The Girls creator skipped the press tour for the latest season because she was having a rough time battling the condition.
The Star Wars star was diagnosed when she was 15. She wrote about her experience on Instagram and encouraged fellow suffers to“get help if it’s needed”.
The 22-year-old singer-songwriter opened up about her experience on Twitter and said that getting diagnosed was a “bittersweet moment” because it meant she wasn’t “crazy”.
Images: 123RF.com / Text: Adora Wong.