What is endometriosis?
If you stopped ten women in the street, one of the women would have endometriosis. Did you know Endometriosis affects 1.5 million women, a similar number of women affected by diabetes? As I have it myself I thought it was my turn to raise awareness for this condition.
Endometriosis is a condition where cells like the ones in the lining of the womb (uterus) are found elsewhere in the body. Each month these cells react in the same way to those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. These cells react to the menstrual cycle each month and also bleed. However, there is no way for this blood to leave the body. This can cause inflammation, pain and the formation of scar tissue. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape.
What is endometriosis really like?
There seems to be a stigma, that being a woman and having painful periods go together. Let me tell you now, if you dread the arrival of your period every month due to the consistent pain you experience, it’s not normal. For years I suffered silently, assuming wrongly that it was just a part of being a woman.
I have an office job and it’s been hell trying to appear normal. I end up feeling like passing out from the intense cramps and internal shooting pains. Baggy jumpers are my friends so I can hide my hot water bottle under there. Then there is the accompanying nagging lower back pain that never really goes away. Taking painkillers every few hours is a necessity for me just to appear and behave like an actual normal functioning human. I astonish myself that I to date have never took a day off from work. I fear that if I did, I’d do it every month and let this damn disorder beat me not only physically but mentally too.
Fast forward to today and I’m back at the hospital asking for help. I’m worse with a persistent rib pain in my right side which leaves me immobilised, feeling like a prisoner in my own body for two or three weeks of every month. I’ve even ended up in A&E which is unheard of for me. I am currently awaiting my MRI scan results, as this will determine whether I proceed with surgery.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms will differ from person to person, however below are some that you may experience:
(* marks the symptoms I was experiencing.)
- Severe menstrual cramps*
- Painful bowel movements or urination, especially during menstruation*
- Abnormal or heavy bleeding during periods
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain elsewhere in the body*
- Infertility issues
How do you get diagnosed?
After years of feeling this way I decided to see my doctor whom referred me to my local hospital. After a consult with a specialist, I had an internal ultrasound and then was referred to have a laparoscopy, the only way to confirm you have Endometriosis. The procedure is also known as keyhole surgery, a minimally invasive procedure allowing the surgeon to access the inside of the abdomen and pelvis to see if there are patches of endometriosis tissue.
The Diagnosis Survey 2015 by Endometriosis UK revealed that almost 50% of women see their GP more than 5 times before being referred to a specialist, taking an average 7.5 years to get a formal diagnosis of endometriosis by laparoscopy.
The laparoscopy procedure was actually nothing to worry about at all. In 2015 that I had Endometriosis in my utero-vesical pouch, utero sacral ligament and in my Pouch of Douglas.
Although Endometriosis was confirmed, I was told that my pain wasn’t related to the symptoms that I was experiencing. I was advised to try another hormonal contraceptive such as the hormonal injection and to come back if things got worse. I left feeling disappointed and unsupported.
I’ve also on numerous accounts been advised to “have a baby” because I’ll be giving my body a break periods, which is ludicrous and not the reason why one should contemplate having a baby in the first place.
What causes endometriosis?
What actually causes endometriosis is unknown. There are several theories about what may cause it, but nothing conclusive. Genetics may also play a role in whether you get endometriosis. It has been shown that if someone in your family has it, you are more likely to have it too.
Are there any treatments available?
Unfortunately there is currently no cure for endometriosis but there are treatments that can help ease the symptoms. Differing on person to person, some treatments will be more effective than others. Treatments include:
- Hormonal medicines and contraceptions
- Surgery/Hysterectomy (Removing the patches of endometriosis tissue or removing the womb)
Things I avoid in my life to make my Endometriosis pain more manageable
Every lady whom experiences painful periods will have their own tips with how they cope. However I wanted to share my three personal changes that I implemented in hope that it may be useful to someone else.
I went vegan, also known as plant based.
As well as ethical and environmental reasons, I changed my dietary lifestyle to veganism. From research I learnt that it is the best diet for reducing inflammation. As I have an angry immune system fighting with endometrial tissue in my body in places it shouldn’t be, it made sense to try to create an equilibrium. This meant cutting out meat, dairy, eggs, which have been proven to cause inflammation, as well as being high in PCBs, (man-made chemicals) dioxins and estrogenic pesticides.
Chemicals are no for me. I only use natural beauty products.
Many women who have Endometriosis find they have an estrogen dominance, which I’m sure I do. I was horrified to come across a list called the Dirty Dozen written by David Suzuki, it’s fair to say it’s changed my life. These 12 chemicals are in many everyday items and are carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors. All things could not be helping me and also things that I knew I didn’t want in my body. When I say I use natural beauty products this extends to makeup, cleansers, bath products even down to the tampons and sanitary towels. The chemicals I make sure I avoid are:
- BHA and BHT
- Coal tar dyes
- DEA-related ingredients
- Dibutyl phthalate
- Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
- PEG compounds
- Sodium laureth sulfate
Read up and do your research, it’s pretty terrifying.
My contraception went in the bin
Now this is very personal choice and I appreciate not every woman will be able to do this. I tried the combined pill for years which didn’t do much. I then tried the hormonal injection which worked for a few months (hello more progesterone!) but then I found myself crashing with the same back pain and cramping even without periods! Although I’m consistently advised after my appointments at hospitals to go back onto contraception, as “every time you have a period you are making your condition worse” I’ve chosen not to do so. I believe the female body should be allowed do what it’s meant to do naturally, without the interference of more synthetic hormones.
Do you use anything to help with the pain during your period?
It’s almost impossible without relying on pain medication with Endometriosis. The pain medication I reach for and find most useful is Feminax Ultra Maximum Strength tablets and Mefanic Acid. I occasionally reach for an Ibuprofen when the other two tablets are not available.
Whilst I’m waiting for the tablets to kick in, I either try and stretch my body out with yoga, have a bath or curl up on the sofa or in bed with a hot water bottle. I’ve recently been experimenting with essential oil blends that I’ve been rubbing into my stomach, they’ve been surprisingly effective!
As a side note, I want to mention that if you have Endometriosis or think you may do after reading this, please don’t be afraid to reach out. I know what it’s like having this condition and I’m here for you.
Until the next article, sending all my love your way.