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Could your painful periods be endometriosis?

Could your painful periods be endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease that is estimated to affect approximately 1 in 10 women in Ireland, yet often goes undiagnosed. Many people may experience symptoms of endometriosis throughout their lifetime but might not realise it. The symptoms can often be dismissed as just “bad periods”. Unfortunately, endometriosis is a conditions that can have a massive impact on a persons everyday life.  Keep reading to learn more and find out whether your painful periods may actually be a sign of endometriosis and what to do if you think you have the condition.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue, similar to the tissue that lines the womb, grows elsewhere in the body. The area most commonly affected is the ovaries, but it can also occur in the stomach, fallopian tubes and bowel. 

Endometriosis can be a very painful condition that can negatively affect a person's quality of life. During a period, these tissues act in the same way as the tissue in the womb. It builds up and then breaks down and bleeds, but unlike the lining of the womb, it has nowhere to go. This can lead to painful inflammation, swelling and lesions, which is why people with endometriosis tend to experience severe pain along with other challenging symptoms, and often have trouble conceiving.

What causes it?

The cause of endometriosis is currently unknown. It has been linked to genetics, immune system issues, metaplasia (conversion of normal tissues to endometrial tissue) and retrograde menstruation (when some of the womb lining flows up through the fallopian tubes and embeds itself on organs rather than leaving the body as a period). However, none of these have been identified as the exact cause and it is likely the condition is a result of a combination of different factors. 

People who are at an increased risk of developing endometriosis include those who:

  • Have never given birth
  • Have a family history of endometriosis
  • Started having periods at an early age 
  • Have short menstrual cycles (less than 27 days)
  • Have heavy menstrual periods that last longer than 7 days 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of endometriosis can vary from person to person. Some people may experience very mild symptoms while others can find the condition completely debilitating. These are some of the signs of endometriosis to look out for.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the lower tummy or back (pelvic pain) in the days before a period starts and intense pain that usually gets worse during the period. The pain is more severe than 'normal' period cramps and may not subside with basic pain medication.
  • Pelvic pain at other times of the month when not menstruating.
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding.
  • Pain during or after sex.
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination.
  • Diarrhoea, constipation, bloody stool or urine, or bloating.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Difficulty getting pregnant .
  • Fatigue.

Endometriosis can sometimes seem like other conditions that cause pelvic pain, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or ovarian cysts. Depending on the symptoms, it can also be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and in some cases IBS can happen along with endometriosis. 

Living with symptoms may also lead to feelings of frustration and depression, especially if undiagnosed. 

What to do if you think you have endometriosis

We'd recommend talking to your doctor if you think you have endometriosis. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to improving symptoms and preserving fertility. It can be helpful to track your symptoms and write down any questions that you have before your appointment. While it can be hard to talk about endometriosis, it’s important to give your doctor as much information as possible. Don't downplay your pain, describe it as accurately as you can and also describe how your pain affects your life. 

A doctor will typically ask about your symptoms and may ask to examine your tummy and vagina. They may recommend treatments if they think you have endometriosis, or refer you to a gynaecologist. Because endometriosis can be mistaken for other conditions, getting the opinion of a gynaecologist or experienced endometriosis doctor can be helpful. A gynaecologist may do some further tests such as an ultrasound scan or a laparoscopy (this is where a surgeon passes a thin tube through a small cut in your tummy which lets them see any patches of endometriosis tissue) to confirm the presence of endometriosis. 

How to manage endometriosis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for endometriosis, but there are options for managing symptoms. These include:

  • Pain medication such as ibuprofen and paracetamol to help manage pain are the most common treatments for endometriosis. If you’ve been taking painkillers and you’re still in pain, your doctor may prescribe you stronger pain medication.
  • Hormone treatment such as birth control patches and pills. These are used to stop periods and stop the thickening of the lining of the womb, which means the lesions will also bleed less, reducing pain, inflammation and scarring. However, symptoms will only be improved while taking the medication.
  • Surgery to remove patches of endometriosis tissue, or parts of the organs affected.
Endometriosis is a long-term condition and it can be difficult to deal with, both physically and emotionally. Some lifestyle habits that support general health and may help symptoms include:
  • Eating a nutritious, balanced diet.
  • Reducing foods that are linked with inflammation such as highly processed foods, red meat and alcohol.
  • Increasing foods that are anti-inflammatory such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, oily fish, olive oil and nuts.
  • Staying hydrated.
  • Avoiding caffeine.
  • Getting regular exercise when you can. (this doesn’t have to be strenuous even a light walk is great if you can manage it but don’t push yourself if you’re not feeling well)
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Managing stress levels.

You can also consider trying a daily hormone supplement such as Gigi PMS & Hormone Balance Blend to help with support against symptoms of endometriosis. This daily supplement contains 15 ingredients specifically formulated to support the relief of premenstrual symptoms (PMS) and is suitable for women aged 12 to 45 years old.

Gigi Vitamins & Supplements Gigi PMS & Hormone Balance Blend 240g

With endometriosis, you may find you need extra support from family and friends, and it can be helpful to talk about your condition with those close to you and discuss ways in which they can be there for you. You may benefit from speaking to your school or workplace so that they are aware of your diagnosis too. There are also support groups like Endometriosis Association of Ireland that you can contact for information and advice, and if you find that your endometriosis is affecting your mental health, reach out to a mental health professional. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact our expert team at Meaghers, we are always here to help!  

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