Advice

Student health spotlight: Endometriosis

By Alex Roach

What do Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper and Hillary Clinton all have in common?
According to The Guardian, these celebrities are three of an estimated 176 million-strong army of women all across the world who are fighting Endometriosis. Endometriosis is an illness that many people have never heard of. Which is surprising given it affects 1 in 10 women in the UK and is the leading cause of infertility in women worldwide. It is an autoimmune disease where cells usually found in the lining of the uterus are found elsewhere in the body. These cells attach themselves to organs and form cyst-like clusters which perform the same function as the cells lining the uterus (bleeding in synchrony with the womb). This blood however, has no where to go and so the cyst becomes what is referred to as an endometrioma. These cysts/endometrioma are predominantly found in regions local to the uterus and only very rarely found in organs further afield like the lungs or the heart. In fact, the only organ that ‘stray cells’ have never been found is the spleen. However, no theories have offered an explanation as to why this might be.

Medics are still uncertain how these cells ‘go rouge’. There are currently six disputed causes of Endometriosis, which is one of the many reasons why it takes an average of eight years for someone with the condition to be diagnosed. This is further complicated because an ‘official’ diagnosis of the condition can only be achieved through exploratory surgery. In addition, a diagnosis can prove challenging because a sufferer could exhibit all of the potential symptoms or only a few and all to varying degrees and at different times. These symptoms include; extremely painful periods, chronic abdominal or back pain, fatigue, pain during sexual intercourse, infertility, nausea, irregular or excessive bleeding, leg pain and painful bowel movements. Plus, Endometriosis can also lead to other health issues such as Endometriosis-induced IBS or related bladder problems. One particular indication of Endometriosis is the development of internal lesions. In simple terms: lesions are formed by the development of scar tissue and can connect organs together and tie them up.

Below are listed 6 theories which attempt to explain the cause of Endometriosis and their definitions which can be found on endometriosis-uk.org.
Genetic predisposition-Some research suggests that Endometriosis can be passed down from mother to daughter but few advances have been made in the research investigating this theory. Retrograde menstruation-the re-uptake of cells lining the womb which are supposed to be shedded instead travelling back up through the fallopian tubes. Lymphatic or circulatory spread- a ‘fault’ in the lymphatic or circulatory system, explaining cases where Endometrial masses have been found in the brain and eyes. Immune dysfunction- many women who suffer from Endometriosis have been found to have less tolerant immune systems than the average non-sufferer. However, a direct link is yet to be found. Environmental causes-animal studies found that high levels of exposure to toxins such as dioxin lead to increased cases of Endometriosis. However, this theory is not yet applicable to humans. And finally, Metaplasia- this is a process where one form of cell morphs into another. Typically this occurs as a response to inflammation and allows cells to adapt to their surrounding circumstance and environment. Metaplasia would explain how the Endometriosis cells appear some-what scattered inside the body.

Unfortunately a cure has not yet been found and women with the condition are left attempting to manage their symptoms. However, after talking to a fellow student who suffers from the condition and has spent years going through almost every treatment available including; all forms of the pill sold in the UK- used for hormonal control, the implant, prescribed pain relief, medication which de-sensitised the necessary pain receptors, medication which put her ovaries in a state which her doctors called suspension. In addition, between the ages of 18-20 she was put into medically induced menopause which was later reversed as she came off the medication. None of the above listed treatments worked, or if they did it was short-lived. Finally after years of trying all the different options available she found what worked for her. She underwent her second surgery where various procedures were performed and an Intra Uterine Device (IUD) was placed. It is important to remember however, that this is an acute case so do not fear.

Visit Endometriosis-uk.org for information including latest research, a glossary including all the medical terms you may come across, treatment options and also offers you the chance for fellow Endometriosis sufferers to get in contact and begin an Endo-sister pen-pal set up, and more.

If you have Endometriosis and are struggling, keep fighting you will find what works for your body do not give up and let those around you help you. Alternatively, if you think you might suffer from Endometriosis go and see your GP and mention it to them, often it can be dismissed as ‘bad period pains’. And lastly, to all women and men across the globe: let’s break the taboo behind topics which are seen as ‘too personal’ when it involves the health of a 176 million. They don’t get to stop fighting, so please, let’s not stop them talking.

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