Your uterus gives you enough hassle on your period each month, but for people with endometriosis periods are more than just cramps, crying and chocolate. We find out more about the condition and how it can be treated.

woman lying down holding stomach

A hot water bottle might not fix this one.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis (en-doh-mee-tree-oh-sis) is when cells behave like the ones found in the lining of your womb. Sounds a bit attention seeking, right? These cells behave in the same way as the ones in your womb so, yes, that means they bleed during your period. Due to there being no place for this blood to go, endometriosis cells cause inflammation, scar tissue and a bloody lot of pain.

It’s a chronic condition and can be very debilitating in a number of ways. Aside from having heavy periods and intense pain, it can cause depression, isolation, and can also affect work and social commitments. It’s not fun.


Endometriosis can affect women in different ways and in varying intensities. Classic symptoms include:

  • Heavy and painful periods
  • Fatigue
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Painful sex (during and after)
  • Infertility

However, other symptoms sometimes reported are:

  • Back and leg pain
  • IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
  • Irregular periods
  • Pelvic pain

What causes endometriosis?

Not a clue. The definitive cause of endometriosis is unknown, but there are a few theories:

  • Retrograde menstruation. Sometimes, during your period, the womb lining can flow out through your fallopian tubes and into the abdomen. It’s thought that most women experience this, but sometimes the body cannot get rid of this tissue.
  • Genetics. A classic. Often your family pass down heirlooms or fancy looking jewellery, but sometimes they can give you their lovely chronic conditions. How generous.
  • Lymphatic or circulatory spread. Endometriosis tissue has sometimes been found in the eyes and brain, and this could be due to the particles using our bloodstream as a free ride around our body. Pretty sure that’s a finable offence, right?
  • Metaplasia. It sounds like something fancy and clever, and it is. Metaplasia is when a certain type of cell morphs into another, usually due to a need to adapt after inflammation, for example. Smart. With endometriosis, this would explain how endometriosis cells appear spontaneously in various parts of the body. It would also explain endometriosis in women who have had a hysterectomy, or in men who have had hormone treatments.

Can it be treated?

There are various treatments for endometriosis, but currently there is no cure. Current treatments aim to reduce the intensity of symptoms and allow you to live a more comfortable life. These can include:

  • Hormone treatment. Endometriosis responds to oestrogen, a female hormone, so some hormone treatments can attempt to reduce or block the production of it.
  • Surgery. A laparoscopy (keyhole surgery where a camera is inserted into the pelvis) can be carried out to remove any lesions, either by cutting them out or destroying them with a laser. Sounds wonderfully dramatic. However, although this should relieve symptoms they can come back at any time without warning.
  • Pain relief. Much like with general period pain, hot water bottles and painkillers may be your friend depending on the intensity of your symptoms. Physiotherapy may also be an option, and some hospitals have pain clinics to support those with chronic pain. Your GP should be able to refer you.

Oh, I think I have endometriosis… what now?

If you think you might have endometriosis, get yourself to see a doctor who can carry out some tests.

However, it’s worth mentioning that it can be tricky getting diagnosed due to endometriosis sharing symptoms with other conditions such as PCOS (Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome). But don’t let that put you off.

The only concrete way of getting a diagnosis is by having a laparoscopy. Any endometriosis tissue can be removed for examination.

Aside from receiving a diagnosis, seeking emotional support can be crucial. Talking to family and friends about it can ensure you have a little network who won’t mind if you flake on plans. They can also be in charge of the hot water bottle runs.

As well as personal support, Endrometriosis UK is a charity who support those living with the condition, and even searching ‘endometriosis’ on Twitter can reveal a community of people who support each other and raise awareness.

We know that living with endometriosis is a right pain. Literally. It can be easy to assume that it’s just a bad period, but if it’s affecting your daily life then it’s definitely worth getting checked out.

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Updated on 02-Mar-2016

Photo by Shutterstock.