March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, yet we hear so little about a disorder that affects 200 million women around the world. Yes, on average, more than one in 10 women of reproductive age will be diagnosed with endometriosis during her lifetime. A whole-body disease that can affect any organ or tissue throughout the body, endometriosis is a condition where cells similar to the ones lining the womb are found elsewhere in the body, usually within the pelvic cavity.
Each month, these cells react to the menstrual cycle in the same way to those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape, which leads to inflammation, pain, and the formation of scar tissue (known as adhesions). A wide range of symptoms are presented, including pelvic pain, severe cramps during menstruation, heavy irregular periods, painful abdominal swelling, pain during sexual intercourse, fatigue and weakness, painful bladder and bowel movements, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, bloating, and diarrhoea.
Endometriosis is also one of the leading causes of infertility, with nearly 50% of infertile women suffering from the condition, occuring from puberty to menopause – although the impact may be felt for life. While the cause of endometriosis is still unknown, genetic, environmental, and anatomical causes may contribute to its development. Despite there being no way of preventing endometriosis, there are ways of managing both the condition and its symptoms.
Only the second doctor in the world to be certified as a Master Surgeon in Endometriosis Care, Dr. Charles Nagy from Medcare Women & Children Hospital in Dubai has noted an increase in endometriosis cases over the decades. “Diagnosis of endometriosis can often take many years, with the average time before accurate diagnosis is achieved anywhere between seven and 10 years,” he explains.
“While the causes of endometriosis are unknown, and there is currently no cure, there have been many theories that have tried to explain the disease – the most prevalent being the retrograde menstruation theory, where some of the cells of the lining of the womb spill into the abdomen during menstruation and stick to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel, or bladder. Other factors include immunological dysfunction, metaplasia of normal cells of the peritoneum into endometriosis, and certain environmental toxins.”
While the cause of endometriosis is unknown, genetic, environmental, and anatomical causes may contribute to its development. Despite there being no way of preventing endometriosis, there are ways of managing both the condition and its symptoms, with some sufferers combining surgical and pain relief treatments with yoga to relieve pain symptoms.
“If untreated, endometriosis can lead to serious health complications, including bowel obstruction, permanent damage of the ovaries, bladder dysfunction, kidney failure, and infertility – and this is not taking into consideration the impact on quality of life and even a women’s career due to the chronic pain that accompanies it,” adds Dr. Nagy. “This is why it’s crucial that it be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible by experienced doctors in a dedicated division that focuses on the management of endometriosis. Treatment can be either medical or surgical, depending on the woman’s age, fertility requirement, and severity and location of the disease, but one certainty is that this treatment will make a hugely positive impact on the quality of life that each woman manages to lead going forward.”
Visit www.endometriosis-uk.org for more information.