Amy Schumer posted a video to Instagram over the weekend revealing that she had undergone surgery to remove her uterus and appendix.
Her diagnosis? In her words, her body was being “attacked” by endometriosis.
Following a detailed account of the 30 endometriosis spots removed by the doctor, the video ended with an explanation as to why Amy was sharing her experience: “I’m going to try to share this story at some point to raise awareness because so many people don’t even know the word endometriosis and it’s like one in 10 women [that] has it”.
Despite the fact that 176 million women worldwide suffer from this condition, we are still relatively uneducated about it. Consequently, the condition often goes unnoticed or undiagnosed.
And as Amy pointed out in her Instagram caption: “Women are made to feel like they are just supposed to “tough it out” but that is bullshit. We have a right to live pain free.”
We spoke with Dr Anne Poliness and Dr Georgiana Tang from Melbourne’s City Fertility Centre to better understand what endometriosis is and the symptoms we need to pay attention to.
What is endometriosis?
Put simply, endometriosis occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus grows in the wrong part of the body. Just like a regular menstrual cycle, the tissue still grows, thickens and tries to shed but endometriosis typically causes this process to occur around the pelvic cavity, which causes pain, discomfort and in severe cases, infertility.
How is it caused and who is susceptible?
The exact cause is not clear; however, genetics, the immune system, and estrogen production are all said to play a role.
There is no definitive reason why some women can suffer from endometriosis while others may not. “It is likely that there is some genetic component to endometriosis as sometimes females in the same family are affected; however genetics is likely to be only part of the reason that a woman gets endometriosis, ” says Dr Poliness.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of endometriosis typically begin before the age of 30 (but that’s not to say it can’t happen earlier) and are not the same for everyone.
In fact, some women experience no symptoms at all which is why the condition can often go undetected. Symptoms that are common in sufferers include:
- Heavy periods
- Painful cramps
- Painful intercourse (during and after)
- Painful urination
- Painful bowel movements
- Lower back and abdomen pain
Another symptom of endometriosis is that some women can have trouble falling pregnant.
“If a couple has been unable to conceive after trying for 12 months, then endometriosis can be present in 30-50 per cent of [these] cases. The reasons why endometriosis causes fertility problems are likely to be due to changes in the womb lining tissue.”
How can it be treated?
When it comes to an official diagnosis, Dr Poliness tells us that a laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) is almost always required, as quite often “the endometrial tissue deposits are too small to show up on examination or ultrasound.”
However, the good news is that if a laparoscopy is required, the tissue is usually treated or removed at the same time. Other treatments include hormone medication which can be effective in relieving the pain, however, you cannot fall pregnant while on this medication.
Dr Tang offers her top tips for women suffering from endometriosis:
- Seek help early if you are experiencing any symptoms of endometriosis, especially if your symptoms have been worsening or if you are planning to fall pregnant in the near future.
- Blood tests and pelvic ultrasounds are helpful tools that doctors can organise for you to get more information.
- Surgery may or may not be necessary and your doctor is the best person to advise you on how to confirm the diagnosis, the need for treatment, and the implications of endometriosis on your health and fertility.
Do you suffer from endometriosis? Did you know about these symptoms and treatments?