I’m currently writing this curled up on the sofa, soothing hot chocolate in hand, and cradling a hot water bottle on my belly. Because yet again, endometriosis has reared its monthly ugly head and incapacitated me for the day.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t suffer from painful periods, and although it wasn’t initially diagnosed as endometriosis, it was just that. I was just thirteen when my doctor first put me on the pill in order to dull the pains, and after trialling various pills for their effectiveness (including suffering the side effects of ones that made me break out in acne, experience terrible migraines, and one that made the pain even worse) I finally found one that agreed with me, and my endo was kept under control for 20 odd years.
But in my early 30s, my husband & I decided we wanted children, and with that meant coming off the contraceptive pill … and the onslaught of the full effects of endometriosis which had laid dormant for so long.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis, in it’s simplest terms, is when tissue that acts like the lining of your womb is found outside your womb. It can theoretically grow anywhere within your body, but usually this tissue is found growing on the outside of your ovaries, pelvis and outside of the uterus itself. The only way to know exactly where it is, is to have exploratory surgery, but usually you can half-assume where it is depending on where you’re feeling pains the most.
So what does this mean? Well, unfortunately, it means pain for most of us women who suffer with ‘endo’, as this excess tissue really shouldn’t be there and therefore causes extra grief.
It all makes sense really. When your body is going through it’s monthly cycle and your period begins, your uterus lining begins to shed as normal. Fine, that makes sense. But this other uterine tissue outside of your womb also starts to shed. Except, it’s got nowhere to go, so in effect it bleeds and scars in other parts of your body, but with no escape route. It’s trapped. And that is what can cause us such excruciating pain. WHat a complete bugger.
Us women who suffer from endometriosis often experience terribly painful cramps all throughout the month, but more so during menstruation. The more severe the pain doesn’t necessarily mean more endometrial tissue, the two don’t go hand in hand. Sometimes, women with very little endo can suffer horrendous cramps whilst those with advanced endo may have far less pain. There’s no logic to it.
What Causes Endo?
In this crazy tech-filled, social media-induced world, we’re all so used to getting answers quickly, right? We’re never too far away from a smart phone or computer, so that a little Wikipedia or Google search can’t solve our nebulous 80s boy band lyric* query within mere minutes.
But with endometriosis, it’s a little harder, even in this age of information. You see, no one really knows why it happens or what causes it. There’s a lot of general consensus and theories out there though, but nothing is completely medically confirmed.
Many doctors believe that it happens during a period, when the womb lining doesn’t properly leave the body. Instead, they think the lining tissue sheds and starts to flow up into the fallopian tubes, and latch onto the pelvis, ovaries and other organs. This behaviour is known as retrograde menstruation.
Sometimes the tissue grows along the outer uterus wall and onto the rectum and bladder as well. Seriously, us women have a right old time of it, don’t we? It’s also been found in other random parts of the body too, such as the nasal passages (which typically results in nose bleeds during menstruation), carried there simply by the action of our lymphatic system.
It’s strange to suffer with something when even doctors don’t know where it’s come from! But, as random and illogical as that may feel, it doesn’t detract from the signs of endometriosis and how we can possibly find ways to help ourselves…
*for 80s boy bands feel free to replace with obscure children’s tv theme tunes, how to solve baking disasters, are magic 8 balls real, and so on….
What are the symptoms?
There’s no exclusive list of symptoms that mean you’ve absolutely 100% got endometriosis. After all, a lot of us suffer from various aches and pains all the time (pick any of the following – age, children, stress, tiredness, falling over in heels….you name it!) and we can’t always assume the worst with every tweak and twinge.
However, as a guideline, if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s definitely worth a trip to the doctor’s to hear their thoughts:
- Pelvic pain
- Painful periods
- Heavy periods
- Pain or cramps during sex
- Painful bowel movements or/and urination
- Pain in lower back or abdomen
- Lack of energy
This list is by no means exhaustive and neither it is a 100% concrete list of proof that you have endo. But, if you are suffering with chronic pains in any of these areas, heavy periods or painful sex, it’s probably best to get yourself checked by your physician, just to be on the safe side.
What can help?
Copious amounts of booze and chocolate…..!
Okay, maybe not (although that’s what I invariably want!) But there are definitely things that help me out
- Dark chocolate (as high a cocoa content as you can manage…70%+ at least though)
- Hot water bottles – couldn’t be without one
- Warm baths – for helping to ease aches & relaxing the mind too
- Cutting out pork and red meat from my diet (pork especially is an inflammatory)
- Cutting out dairy too (another inflammatory)
- Exercise – it’s the last thing I want to do, but if I can manage some before & after my worst days, it does help relax my muscles
- Painkillers – I try my best to survive as long as I can without, but I’m no superwoman. Ibuprofen is a staple in my medicine cabinet
- Not judging myself – if i need a day in bed, there’s literally nothing else I can do, so beating myself up about it won’t help
Do you suffer from endometriosis? What are your tried & tested battle methods? Comment and let me know 🙂
…and if you’d like to find out more about it, I’d recommend start by having a look at Endometriosis UK, a leading UK charity who provide information and support to women. :