what actually is endometriosis?
Period pain can be horrible, we all know that. But sometimes it goes beyond the constant, dull, throbbing ache or sudden shooting pain that can be relieved with a hot water bottle, some painkillers and a lot of chocolate.
Endometriosis is, basically, a condition where your period pain is really, really bad – so bad it affects your everyday life, even when you’re not on your period. It’s a super-complicated condition (even experts don’t fully know all about it) but it’s surprisingly common, with one in 10 women in the UK suffering from it.
Despite how unfortunately common it is, it’s really hard to get diagnosed with endometriosis. The average time it can take to get diagnosed is 7.5 years. We know, that sounds awful and quite scary. BUT that’s why we’re here! Let's all get swotted up on endometriosis, so if you or someone you know finds themselves in this situation, you can get tested and diagnosed faster.
So how do I know if I have endometriosis?
Symptoms of endometriosis vary, but they can include: really painful, heavy, or irregular periods that can’t be eased; irritation or pain when going for a wee or poo; being tired all the time; pain in your pelvis, or pelvic area; and back or leg pain.
Some people with endometriosis may have all of these symptoms, and some may have just one or two. Some might have completely different symptoms altogether. But the main thing to look out for is really painful and irregular periods.
How do you get it in the first place?
Here’s where it all gets really sciencey and complicated. Ready?
Endometriosis is caused by cells outside of your uterus behaving like ones inside your uterus. Copycats, right? When you’re on your period, these cells kick in too and bleed, just like your uterus. But because there’s nowhere for this blood to go, it becomes scar tissue which can cause the really bad pain.
Why do these cells do this? Nobody knows. There are some fancy theories but the bottom line is: there is no definite cause. It just happens. C’est la vie. All you can do is focus on getting yourself treated, and not worry about why it’s happened to you rather than perfect Megan from up the road.
Is it treatable?
Yes. Endometriosis is treatable, but sadly not (yet) curable. Hopefully that will come when the experts figure out how and why these dastardly cells start to behave in their periody ways.
TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
- Endometriosis is when cells outside of your uterus act like the ones inside your uterus, causing a lot of pain and discomfort. It affects 1 in 10 women in the UK.
- If you have super painful, heavy, or irregular periods, get yourself to your GP for testing. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about – they deal with this, and worse, all the time.
- There are multiple treatments and you CAN find the right one for you. It might take time, but you’ll get there.
- Periods suck. Sometimes.
There are a few treatments available depending on your age and the types of symptoms you have.
Hopefully your GP can help you find the right balance of pain relief methods. There might be certain painkillers that work for you, as well as physiotherapy and heat comfort (hot water bottles or a hot bath). There are also pain clinics in some hospitals that support those with chronic pain, and your GP may be able to refer you.
The dodgy cells with endometriosis respond to oestrogen, the female hormone, so you may be able to try some hormone treatments in an attempt to reduce or block your body’s production of oestrogen.
This is obviously a more extreme option. You may be able to have surgery to remove any of the scar tissue that endometriosis has caused.
I think I might have it. What can I do?
Don’t panic. Endometriosis can sound scary, painful, and complicated, but it’s a common condition and is treatable. If you think you may have it, speak to an adult you trust – whether that's your mum, dad, auntie, teacher, friend's parent, school nurse or other helpful adult. They should not only be good at sorting the practical stuff, but they’re great for emotional support too. (You could be in for extra chocolate, if you’re lucky.)
Next, you’ll need a GP appointment. You can talk through your symptoms, and all the wonderful knowledge you have of endometriosis thanks to this article, and hopefully kickstart some testing.
Remember, there’s nothing to be scared or embarrassed about when speaking to someone about your body problems. We all have bodies and they all do crazy things. You definitely don’t have to suffer with your problematic period and unruly uterus alone.