Endometriosis is a condition where tissue, like the lining of the womb, starts to grow in other places. For example, the ovaries, the lining of your tummy and fallopian tubes.
Endometriosis can affect women of any age although it is less likely in women after menopause.
It's a long-term condition that can have a significant impact on your life. But there are treatments that can help.
Symptoms of endometriosis
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary. Some women are badly affected, while others might not have any noticeable symptoms.
The main symptoms of endometriosis are:
- pain in your lower tummy or back (pelvic pain) – usually worse during your period
- period pain that stops you doing your normal activities
- pain during or after sex
- pain when peeing or pooing during your period
- feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee during your period
- difficulty getting pregnant
You may also have heavy periods. You might use lots of pads or tampons, or you may bleed through your clothes.
For some women, endometriosis can have a big impact on their life. It may lead to feelings of depression.
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have symptoms of endometriosis, especially if they are severe. Delaying a diagnosis makes treatment less likely to work as the disease progresses.
You should write down your symptoms before seeing your GP.
It can be difficult to diagnose endometriosis because the symptoms can vary. Also, many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and may ask to examine your tummy and vagina. They may recommend treatments if they think you have endometriosis.
If these do not help, they might refer you to a specialist called a gynaecologist for some further tests. For example an ultrasound scan or laparoscopy.
A laparoscopy is where a surgeon passes a thin tube through a small cut in your tummy. This allows them to see any patches of endometriosis tissue. This is the only way to be certain you have endometriosis.
Treatments for endometriosis
There's currently no cure for endometriosis. But there are treatments that can help ease the symptoms and reduce the progression of the disease.
- painkillers – such as ibuprofen and paracetamol
- hormone medicines and contraceptives
- surgery to cut away or laser (vaporise) patches of endometriosis tissue
- an operation to remove part or all the organs affected by endometriosis
Your GP will discuss the options with you.
Complications of endometriosis
One of the main complications of endometriosis is difficulty getting pregnant. You may not be able to get pregnant at all (infertility).
Surgery to remove endometriosis tissue can help improve your chances of getting pregnant. But there's no guarantee that you'll be able to get pregnant after treatment.
Surgery for endometriosis may cause further problems. For example infections, bleeding or damage to affected organs.
If surgery is recommended, talk to your surgeon about the possible risks.
Living with endometriosis
Endometriosis can be a difficult condition to deal with, both physically and emotionally.
This is why it is important to seek help early and discuss any period related symptoms with your GP at the earliest opportunity. It is not normal to have painful periods. Seeking help, receiving a diagnosis and treatment early improves your quality of life and reduces the likelihood of the condition getting worse.
As well as support from your doctor, you may find it helpful to contact a support group such as Endometriosis Association of Ireland
Causes of endometriosis
The cause of endometriosis is not known. Several theories have been suggested.
The condition tends to run in families. It also affects people of certain ethnic groups more than others.
Some of the womb lining flows up through the fallopian tubes. It embeds itself on the organs of the pelvis, rather than leaving the body as a period.
There is a problem with the body's natural defence against illness and infection.
Endometrium cells spreading through the body in the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is a series of tubes and glands that form part of the immune system.
None of these theories fully explain why endometriosis happens. It's likely the condition is caused by a combination of different factors.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE