Endometriosis Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of this painful but often unrecognised condition. This year it runs from 4 to 10 March.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue, which normally lines the inside of the uterus, is found in other areas of the body including the ovaries and fallopian tubes, the lining of the inside of the abdomen and / or the bowel or bladder. It can affect women of any age but is most common in women in their 30s and 40s and can have a significant impact on their lives.

Sadly it is estimated that one in ten women of reproductive age in the UK suffer from endometriosis and this can cost a significant amount of money each year in treatment, loss of work and healthcare expenses according to Endometriosis UK.

Whilst endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition, the symptoms are very similar to other conditions and can manifest themselves in different ways, which often leads to a delay in diagnosis. This delay reaffirms the importance of raising awareness among women of reproductive age so that they recognise the symptoms and can seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity.

Although the symptoms of endometriosis vary, they include:

  • pelvic pain
  • painful, heavy or irregular periods
  • pain during or after sex
  • infertility
  • painful bowel movements

How is endometriosis diagnosed and treated?

Unfortunately scans, blood tests and internal examinations are not a conclusive way to diagnose endometriosis and so women cannot be assured that they do not have the condition simply because results come back with a ‘normal’ finding. The only definitive way to diagnose this condition is by a laparoscopy, an operation whereby a camera is inserted into the pelvis via a small cut and is used by a surgeon to look for any signs of endometriosis.

Although there are no cures for this condition, if a woman is diagnosed with endometriosis, different treatments are available which aim to reduce the severity of the symptoms and improve her quality of life. Treatment will very much depend on the type of symptoms, but can include:

  • surgery
  • hormone treatment – including the combined pill, contraceptive patch and intrauterine system (IUS)
  • pain relief

Amy Milner, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches who deals with cases relating to gynaecological issues, says: “Sadly we come across a number of women who have concerns that the cause of their gynaecological symptoms has not been diagnosed in a timely manner, leaving them suffering for an extended period of time without receiving appropriate treatment. The delays can have an impact in terms of the progression of their symptoms and how much benefit the treatment will have.

“We continue to support campaigns such as Endometriosis Awareness Week as they help to give women the knowledge that they need to recognise when their symptoms are not ‘normal’ and to seek appropriate medical advice. People should not feel afraid to talk to someone about the issues they are facing.”