What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a painful gynaecological condition that affects many women across Australia and beyond. Caused by endometrial tissue (womb lining) growing outside of the uterus, endometriosis can cause a range of symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. Find out how you can spot the signs of endometriosis and get the treatment you need.

What Causes Endometriosis?

Doctors are not sure what causes endometrial tissue to start growing outside the womb. This growth can occur in many parts of the body, including the vagina, cervix, bladder, bowel and vulva. Although these growths are not cancerous, they can cause a lot of unpleasant symptoms. The location of the extra tissue can determine the types of symptoms you have.

What Are the Symptoms of Endometriosis?

The most common symptom of endometriosis is painful periods. Although most women have some discomfort during their menstrual period, severe pain should always be checked out by a doctor. If your period pain stops you from going to work or cannot be controlled with over-the-counter pain medications, you need to see a gynaecologist.

Other symptoms of endometriosis include pain during sex, irregular vaginal bleeding and back pain. If endometrial tissue grows on the bowel, it can also cause digestive issues, such as constipation or diarrhoea. For this reason, endometriosis is sometimes misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If your digestive problems are linked to your menstrual cycle rather than to your diet, ask your doctor whether endometriosis could be the cause.

How Do Gynaecologists Diagnose Endometriosis?

One of the first tests doctors use to look for endometriosis is a pelvic exam. By palpating the vagina and lower abdomen, doctors can feel for endometrial growth or cysts. Other tests for endometriosis include ultrasound and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. These scans take pictures of the inside of your pelvis, which can show abnormal endometrial growth.

Sometimes a laparoscopy is needed to confirm endometriosis. This procedure is a minor surgery that involves sampling tissue from the uterus and surrounding area to check for endometriosis.

What Is the Treatment for Endometriosis?

Hormonal birth control is the first treatment for endometriosis. The hormones in the contraceptive pill, ring, implant, patch or intra-uterine device (IUD) reduce the growth of endometrial tissue, which can help to bring symptoms under control.

Other treatment options include hormone-blocking medications and surgery to remove excess endometrial tissue. You will need to work with your gynaecologist to find a treatment that is right for you.