This week is Endometriosis Awareness Week and the charity Endometriosis UK's slogan for the week is "It's OK to talk. Period". Not only is it OK to talk, but actually it would be great if we did talk about periods much more openly. Because then maybe the 1 in 10 women affected would realise sooner that what they are experiencing is not normal and get the appropriate help.
Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrial cells lining the womb migrate to other parts of the body. Each month these cells react to cyclical hormone changes in the same way as those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the blood as a period, this blood has no way to escape. It is a chronic and debilitating condition that causes painful or heavy periods. It may also lead to infertility because of the scarring that can involve the ovaries and fallopian tubes and it can also make it difficult for an embryo to properly implant. Around 1.5 million women in the UK are currently living with the condition. Endometriosis is still much misunderstood and it takes an average 7.5 years from onset of symptoms for women to be diagnosed. It is estimated that the prevalence of endometriosis in women with infertility may be as high as 30-50%.
I often suspect endometriosis in women coming to our clinic when it hasn't been previously diagnosed or even discussed. Often their concerns about their periods have been brushed off by doctors or they themselves haven't had the confidence to be persistent enough in getting it investigated. I've met women who are overdosing themselves on painkillers trying to manage their pain, who have to sit on black bin liners during their period to protect the sofa, who have been told at the age of 25 that the only solution is a hysterectomy - even one who was told by a consultant gynaecologist that it was normal to bleed for 15 days every month.
If your periods were hideous as a teenager and you were put on the pill for that reason, if you've regularly had to take time off school or work because your period incapacitates you so much, if you feel sick or dizzy during your period, if your period pain radiates into your back or down your legs, if your cramps start before your bleeding, if it hurts to have sex or open your bowels, then these are all possible indicators of endometriosis and you should consider finding out more. Endometriosis UK and Endo Resolve are great places to start. There's also a lot you can do to help yourself and at The Natural Fertility Centre we work with endometriosis sufferers using acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional therapy and fertility massage.