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What is endometriosis? All you need to know about the symptoms and treatment

It affects an estimated 1.5 million women in the UK

Chloe Best
Chloe BestLifestyle Features Editor
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Endometriosis is a common condition that affects an estimated 1.5 million women in the UK, yet it still often goes undiagnosed, with Endometriosis UK saying it typically takes 7.5 years for women to get a diagnosis from their GP. Stars including Daisy Ridley and Lena Dunham have spoken openly about their own experiences with endometriosis in a bid to raise awareness, while Endometriosis Awareness Week aims to further highlight the condition that affects an estimated 1 in 10 women in the UK. We take a look at what endometriosis is and the symptoms to look out for…

STORY: Daisy Ridley opens up about her endometrioisis struggle

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is the name given to the condition where cells like the ones in the lining of the womb 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. However unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape. The chronic and debilitating condition can affect all women and girls of a childbearing age, and may lead to infertility, fatigue and bowel or bladder problems.

Period pain© Photo: iStock

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

Symptoms can vary in intensity from one woman to another, and the level of pain experienced does not always correspond to the severity of the condition. Classic symptoms include –

  • Painful, heavy or irregular periods
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Infertility
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Fatigue

Others may notice symptoms of irritable bowel, irregular bleeding and 'spotting' or bleeding between periods.

STORY: Lena Dunham turns her endometriosis scar into body art

How is endometriosis diagnosed?

Many of the common symptoms of endometriosis may also be caused by other conditions, so it is important to talk to your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Endometriosis UK explains: "The only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is by a laparoscopy - an operation in which a camera (a laparoscope) is inserted into the pelvis via a small cut near the navel. The surgeon uses the camera to see the pelvic organs and look for any signs of endometriosis. If endometriosis is diagnosed, the endometriosis may be treated or removed for further examination during the laparoscopy."

STORY: Kate Ford reveals secret endometriosis battle

Hormone pills© Photo: iStock

What is the treatment for endometriosis?

While there is currently no cure for endometriosis, many women find relief from their symptoms through hormone treatment or pain relief. Others undergo surgery to remove the endometriosis and release scar tissue. Many women also find their symptoms improve with complementary therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy and reflexology, while a change of diet has also been found to have positive benefits including reducing or cutting out intake of red meat, wheat and dairy products.

If you think you are suffering from endometriosis it is important to visit your GP and seek professional medical advice.

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