The Difficulties Diagnosing Endometriosis
It is estimated that nearly one in ten women of reproductive age live with endometriosis. The condition, which can range in severity, often causes painful periods and infertility along with a slew of other symptoms that can drastically reduce one’s quality of life. The problem is compounded by a widespread notion that endometriosis pain and other symptoms are in a woman’s head – not a real, life-altering medical condition.
Although the prevalence of endometriosis is growing throughout the world, diagnosing the problem takes an average of eight and one-half years for most adult women. During Endometriosis Awareness Month in March, raising the bar for proper and prompt diagnosis for women suffering from the disease is paramount.
Troubles with Diagnosing Endometriosis
Endometriosis, a disorder of the female reproductive system, impacts nearly 2 million women in the UK alone, and it takes place when the tissue from the womb grows in other areas of the body. That tissue has no place to go when it builds up, unlike when it is shed from the body during menstruation. When endometriosis is present, the blood in the tissue builds up and causes immense pain.
The symptoms and warning signs of endometriosis may also include discomfort during sex, painful periods, and unexplained infertility, ultimately creating turmoil in the woman’s life. However, the symptoms of endometriosis are varied, making diagnosis a glaring issue.
Most women who present to their doctor with symptoms of endometriosis are told one of two mistruths: that the problems are an emotional reaction to mild period pain or that they have another health condition unrelated to the real underlying issue of endometriosis. Misdiagnosis of endometriosis is attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts, a urinary tract infection, or depression with devastating impacts on women.
Not only are they given a course of treatment, like medications or suggested lifestyle changes that do not effectively reduce the problems associated with endometriosis, but they also feel as though their very real concerns go unheard. The overarching theme with endometriosis is that doctors are more likely to ignore the symptoms than they are to identify – and correct – the issue.
Misdiagnosing endometriosis is all too common because many medical professionals lack the skills and expertise to accurately identify the problem. The only method for diagnosing endometriosis is through laproscopic surgery via a key-hole procedure. But the tissue build-up from endometriosis is often found in areas of the body where a general provider may not feel all that comfortable assessing. Some women luck out, receiving an immediate referral to a specialist gynaecologist when they share symptoms that resemble endometriosis. Others, however, are left stranded in a vicious cycle of misdiagnosis or, worse yet, no diagnosis at all. This leads to delays in receiving the correct treatment to help ease the severity of symptoms.
Pregnancy and Endometriosis
Women with endometriosis can get pregnant. It depends on the severity of the condition as approximately one third of women with endo may have fertility issues. If you are pregnant and have endometriosis, you can have a normal pregnancy. Just be aware that you may have bleeding towards the end of your pregnancy and your baby may be born a bit early and could be smaller than an average newborn.
It is still not clear why women who have a severe form of endometriosis cannot fall pregnant. Specialists say that the abnormal cells produced by endometriosis could block the tubes or block the ovary that releases the eggs. More research needs to be done.
What Can Be Done
Women who feel as though they may have the warning signs or symptoms of endometriosis but have yet to receive a proper diagnosis or course of treatment should seek out a second opinion. Talking about pain during intercourse, problems with fertility, or painful menstruation should not be shrouded in shame or guilt, but instead they should be looked at as the unfortunate reality of some women from a medical perspective. Starting with an open and honest discussion is key to receiving the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Once a diagnosis is made, women have options for treating the symptoms of endometriosis. Some women have found that non-invasive lifestyle changes make a significant difference in their pain and discomfort. These may include adding regular exercise to their daily routine, or cutting out foods with dairy or gluten. In most cases, however, treating endometriosis involves the removal of the tissue built up on other parts of the body. This requires specialist intervention, making it crucial to connect with the right provider at the right time. The combination of one or more of these treatment plans along with medication for persistent pain can drastically improve the quality of life women with endometriosis have in the future.
During Endometriosis Awareness Month, women throughout the UK can step up to the plate to raise the level of education surrounding the medical condition by getting involved in local organisations and charity events. Endometriosis UK is the leading charitable organisation dedicated to supporting and encouraging women living with endometriosis throughout the country. Information about support groups, local events, and ways to get involved in increasing the awareness of endometriosis during March and beyond can be found on the organisation’s website.