What is endometriosis and what are the signs to look out for?
What do Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Julianne Hough and Lena Dunham have in common? Apart from being superstars, all of these women are (or were) sufferers of endometriosis, a painful health disorder that affects a woman’s uterus.
Though the chronic disease affects at least six million women in the United States and two million women in the United Kingdom, according to the Endometriosis Foundation, many women do not receive an immediate or correct diagnosis.
As it’s Endometriosis Awareness Week, we take a look at the common condition which affects so many women worldwide.
What is endometriosis?
The condition occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside this organ — usually in the abdomen, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and ligaments that support the uterus. Other sites for endometrial growths may include the bladder, bowel, vagina, cervix, vulva, and in abdominal surgical scars.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms associated with endometriosis can vary significantly for each person, with many women experiencing pelvic pain, painful periods, depression, fatigue and difficulties in getting pregnant.
In some cases the pain is relentless. One study sponsored by World Endometriosis Association Foundation found between 44 and 61 per cent of women with endometriosis who had seen specialists or participated in a patient association reported chronic pain, or pain lasting longer than six months.
Can the pain be relieved?
In some cases, hormonal birth control helps resolve the pain for sufferers of endometriosis. For women who want to get pregnant, a doctor may prescribe a medicine that stops her body from making the hormones responsible for ovulation and menstruation. By launching a woman’s body into a temporary menopause, the growth of endometriosis is halted for a spell and her body can heal, according to the U.S. Women's Health Office. For some women, the symptoms will improve after menopause as the growths slowly shrink once the body stops making oestrogen. In extreme cases, a woman may have her uterus and cervix, as well as both her ovaries, surgically removed.
What's being done to help find a cure?
Currently, the causes of endometriosis aren't fully known and diagnosis requires invasive surgery. None of the available medical and surgical treatments can cure the condition.
However, researchers from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Translational Medicine, in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford, are launching a national U.K. survey (from 10Mar16) to shed more light on the condition.
Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant Gynecology Surgeon, Dr Dharani Hapangama, said the aim of the survey is to provide information on what people think are the most important areas to focus research on.
"We want to hear from the women suffering with endometriosis; their partners; families; friends and loved ones; healthcare providers/professionals; and employers to understand what are the most important unanswered questions about this condition," said Dr Hapangama.