March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of this disease that affects 1 in 9 Australian women and many others who are transgender or gender diverse or remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Endometriosis is a condition that remains widely misunderstood, a surprising fact considering how common it is. In recognition of Endometriosis Awareness Month, Dr. Tania Widmer, an experienced gynaecologist and endometriosis specialist at Grace Private, has answered the six most frequently asked questions about endometriosis.
Endometriosis is present when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (womb) occurs outside this layer and in other parts of the body. This causes pain and discomfort, and in some cases, infertility.
The exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. However, it’s believed genetic factors do come into play, and endometriosis could be hereditary. Other theories about what may cause endometriosis include retrograde menstruation, immune system dysfunction and environmental toxins. More research is needed to fully understand the cause of endometriosis.
Women are most commonly diagnosed with endometriosis in their 20s. However, teenagers can have endometriosis. Because the average time to receive a correct diagnosis is approximately 7 to 10 years, many women have been living with endometriosis since they were teenagers – they just didn’t know it!
One of Australia’s leading support groups for people affected by endometriosis, QENDO, estimates that 26 percent of girls between 14 and 19 years old have missed school because of their period. Two percent of these have time off for every single period. Painful and heavy periods can affect their education, sport and extra-curricular activities, social life, relationships and work.
Read more about teenagers and endometriosis in this blog article.
Endometriosis can affect fertility by blocking the fallopian tubes or stopping them from functioning correctly. However, having endometriosis doesn’t mean you’re infertile; you can still fall pregnant with endometriosis.
You can boost your fertility naturally by eating right, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight. Laparoscopic surgery to remove endometriosis and IVF are options if you find it difficult to fall pregnant.
Everyone’s journey with endometriosis is different, and symptoms vary. Some symptoms may include the following:
Endometriosis can only be diagnosed through a laparoscopy, which is a minimally invasive surgical procedure carried out under general anaesthetic. If you consult with a gynaecologist at Grace Private, they may recommend a laparoscopy to confirm the presence of endometriosis. This procedure can typically be performed as a day or overnight surgery and both diagnosis and treatment can take place simultaneously.
During a laparoscopy a small incision is made near the belly button and a small telescope called a laparoscope is inserted. This is connected to a video camera so the team can watch the procedure. Your Grace surgeon will examine the pelvic organs, checking for endometriosis lesions, scars and adhesions, as well as other abnormalities. The endometriosis will be removed and sent for histology to confirm the diagnosis.
Currently, there isn’t a cure for endometriosis, but there are ways to manage the symptoms. At Grace Private, our gynaecologists work with a multidisciplinary team, including physiotherapists, a dietician and psychologists, to ensure we’re taking a holistic approach to your endometriosis diagnosis and ongoing management.
Some treatment options for endometriosis include pain relief medications, hormonal therapy, and surgery to remove endometrial tissue. We also recommend staying healthy by eating a nutritious diet and doing plenty of exercise.
Want to know more about endometriosis? Endometriosis Australia is holding the 2023 Endometriosis Australia Symposium, with a spotlight on research, online on 25 March 2023. Tickets are free!
If you’re experiencing symptoms of endometriosis, book an appointment with one of our Grace gynaecologists; just ‘ask for Grace’ next time you visit your GP for a referral.