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All you need to know about endometriosis

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
One in 10 women will develop endometriosis and 90 million women are estimated to be suffering from this disease worldwide.

Despite being a common disease, endometriosis is widely misunderstood and there are many myths about this condition.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition that involves a piece of the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus, growing outside of the uterus and attaching itself to pelvic organs such as the ovaries, bladder and pelvic ligaments.

This displaced endometrial tissue then continues to survive and behaves as it normally would, by thickening, breaking down and bleeding during each menstrual cycle.

However, because this tissue has no way of exiting the body, it becomes trapped and forms patterns of tissue called endometriosis.

Depending on the location of the tissues, the depth to which they penetrate, their positioning in relation to other organs and tissues, and their size, these pieces of tissue can have completely different effects on patients.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of endometriosis is a constant, aching pain that spreads to the abdomen, the pelvic region, the lower back and buttocks. Even the smallest growth can cause severe pain if it comes into contact with a nerve.

Other symptoms include heavy periods, painful sexual intercourse, severe menstrual pain, cramps, infertility and bowel and bladder problems. However, not all women suffer from regular symptoms meaning that many of them do not even realise they have the disease.

About 30 to 40 per cent of patients with endometriosis experience difficulties related to fertility.

The disease decreases a woman’s chances of falling pregnant by 12 to 36 per cent, depending on the progression of the disease, its location and the age of the patient.

Women should see a gynaecologist once a year for a check-up, but more visits are recommended should you be diagnosed with endometriosis.

If a woman’s pain increases dramatically in a short period of time, or she develops unexpected symptoms associated with menstruation or sexual activity, it is important to consult a medical professional as soon as possible.

If the pain is so severe that it affects a woman’s daily life, then she should definitely see a gynaecologist.

What is the treatment for endometriosis?

Endometriosis can never be completely cured, but the good news is that progress of the disease can be stopped and the symptoms treated. Treatment depends on how advanced the disease is, whether or not the patient wishes to have children, the severity of symptoms and the age of the patient.

If the disease is not causing any problems, the doctor may want to adopt a ‘wait and see’ strategy, leaving it to see if this condition will stay subdued. Alternatively painkillers, hormonal treatments, surgical treatments or a combination of therapies may be used.

Surgery aims to remove the endometrium pieces, cysts and adhesions as well as repair damage that may have been caused by the disease.

 

* Government Employee Medical Scheme