- June 24, 2019
- Posted by: Tarek Gelbaya
- Category: Fertility, Medical
In the UK, just over 1.5 million women suffer from endometriosis. It’s a condition that can be very distressing, particularly to those who are trying to conceive which is why I’ve dedicated much of my career to understanding more about it. Many of my patients admit the same frustration; ‘why me’ so I hope this piece sheds more light on it for you, along with what can be done about it.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition which causes cells, similar to those found in your womb-lining, to grow elsewhere in the body (typically around the ovaries and fallopian tubes). This is an unwelcome development; in the womb, these cells are flushed away at the end of each menstrual cycle. When they turn up anywhere else in the body, they can’t be flushed away, nor do they serve any purpose. They’re a nuisance, and they lead to symptoms like inflammation and internal scarring (which we’ll get to in a moment).
This is a chronic condition that can affect women of all ages (provided that they’re menstruating). But it’s more common in women between 30 and 50.
How is Endometriosis diagnosed?
The symptoms of endometriosis are difficult to disentangle from those of other conditions. If you go to your GP, they’ll try to narrow down the possible causes, and if they suspect endometriosis, they might then prescribe a treatment without you seeing a gynaecologist. However, in many cases, these treatments are not finely-calibrated enough to be truly effective.
When visiting a gynaecologist, you’ll be examined using either ultrasound or a keyhole examination. The latter involves threading a tiny camera, attached to the end of a tube, through a hole in your abdomen. This is the only way to be certain that the condition is present.
What causes Endometriosis?
Here’s where we get to the ‘why me?’ question. Unfortunately, the precise cause of the condition is still not widely understood. A genetic cause has been suggested, as it runs in families and effects some ethnicities more than others. It’s also linked with immune system deficiency. Because so little is known about the precise causes, preventing yourself from developing the condition is, unfortunately, next to impossible.
What does Endometriosis cause?
One of the most galling consequences in some cases of endometriosis is infertility. But it can also lead to excruciating abdominal pain, and extremely heavy periods (and bleeding between periods). You may also experience:
- Heightened Allergies
Should you be experiencing any of these, you should book an appointment with your GP.
What can be done about Endometriosis?
There’s no cure for this condition. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are a few proven ways of limiting the symptoms, even if you’re trying for a baby. These range from over-the-counter painkillers to help you deal with the pain, to surgical intervention to remove the offending tissue.
In some cases, I might recommend a hysterectomy. This final option will obviously prevent you from conceiving. But given that it will remove the cause of the pain, and prevent a number of other conditions from taking hold (including cancers of the womb), it’s being considered by increasing numbers of older women.
As clinical lead for Endometriosis at University Hospitals of Leicester, Mr Gelbaya is one of the country’s top specialists for the condition, helping hundreds of women with some of the most complex of cases.