Symptoms of endometriosis
Endometriosis is a long-term condition. In women with endometriosis, endometrial deposits can be found in different places in the body, typically in the pelvis, but other places can include:
- the ovaries and fallopian tubes
- outer surface of the womb
- the lining of the inside of the abdomen
- the bowel or bladder
Symptoms can vary significantly from person to person, and some women have no symptoms at all.
The most common symptoms include:
- painful periods or heavy periods
- pain in the lower abdomen (tummy), pelvis or lower back
- pain during and after sex
- bleeding between periods
- difficulty getting pregnant
Most women with endometriosis get pain in the area between their hips and the tops of their legs. Some women experience this pain all the time.
Other symptoms may include:
- persistent exhaustion and tiredness
- discomfort when going to the toilet
- bleeding from your back passage (rectum) or blood in your poo
- coughing blood – in rare cases when the endometriosis tissue is in the lung
How severe the symptoms are depends on where the endometrial deposits are in your body.
What causes endometriosis?
The causes of endometriosis aren't fully known, but there are several theories.
The most widely accepted theory is the womb lining doesn't leave the body properly during a period and embeds itself on the organs of the pelvis. This is known as retrograde menstruation.
You should see your GP if you have symptoms of endometriosis (see above) so they can try to identify a cause. They may refer you to a gynaecologist, a specialist in problems affecting the female reproductive system.
It can be difficult to diagnose endometriosis because the symptoms can vary considerably, and many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.
Endometriosis is most commonly diagnosed in women between 30-40 years of age and is uncommon in those younger than 20 years of age.
Endometriosis can only be confirmed with a surgical examination called a laparoscopy. This is carried out under general anaesthetic (where you're put to sleep). You can usually go home the same day.
A thin tube with a camera and light on the end (laparoscope) will be passed into your body through a small cut in your skin at your belly button, so the specialist can see any endometriosis tissue.
The symptoms of endometriosis can often be managed with painkillers and hormone medication, which help prevent the condition interfering with your daily life. However, there's no known cure for endometriosis.
Patches of endometriosis tissue can sometimes be surgically removed to improve symptoms and fertility.
Endometriosis and pregnancy
One complication of endometriosis is difficulty getting pregnant, or not being able to get pregnant at all (infertility).
Surgery can't guarantee you'll be able to get pregnant. However, there's good evidence that removing endometriosis tissue with a laser or an electric current during keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery can improve your chances of having a successful pregnancy.
If you have endometriosis and you do become pregnant, the condition is unlikely to put your pregnancy at risk. Pregnancy sometimes reduces the symptoms of endometriosis. However, they often return once you've given birth and finished breastfeeding, and the menstrual cycle returns to normal.