March is the awareness month for endometriosis, a chronic gynaecological condition that affects 1 in 10 people who menstruate. At those odds, we all know someone living with the condition – so why do many of us know nothing about it?
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows elsewhere in the body. Every month when the lining of the womb sheds and leaves the body as a period, this womb-like tissue also sheds with no way to escape, causing pain that can be severe.
· pain in the lower stomach or back – usually worse during your period;
· excessive bleeding;
· period pain that stops you doing your normal activities;
· pain during or after sex;
· pain while going to the toilet during your period;
· and difficulty getting pregnant.
For some, the symptoms are minimal. For others, the condition goes way beyond “a bad period” – it can have a devastating impact on everyday life, mental health and fertility.
Fiona Stalker, a BBC journalist who lives with endometriosis and tirelessly campaigns to raise awareness of the condition, spoke to The Student about her experience. ‘It’s like a hot knife being dragged across your stomach’ she says. ‘I remember lying on the bedroom floor, clutching my stomach. It’s that kind of stabbing pain, grinding pain, that makes you feel nauseous because it’s so sore.’
There is currently no cure for endometriosis. After a patient first sees their doctor about symptoms, it takes an average of 7.5 years before they are diagnosed. The sooner a patient is diagnosed, the sooner they can access treatments such as pain relief, hormone treatment and surgery to reduce the severity of their symptoms.
Fiona emphasises how important it is for the medics, parents, partners and friends of someone experiencing symptoms of endometriosis to believe them when they express the extent of their pain:
‘I know many women who have been told “It’s painful periods. Take paracetamol.” Or worse – “get pregnant”. For me, it’s never about painful periods. These are women who pass out with the pain, spend days in bed with flare ups, who are signed off work. It should never be dismissed.’
For campaigners like Fiona, raising awareness is important not only to increase understanding and support for people living with endometriosis, but also to put pressure on the grant bodies that fund research. For people with uteri, endometriosis is as common as diabetes, yet there is a great difference in the level of awareness and funding for research. Fiona says ‘endometriosis has suffered from being a female health issue, without a shadow of a doubt.’
Keisha, the founder of the National Endometriosis Survivor’s Support Group on Facebook and Instagram (@endometriosis_survivors_ness) spoke to us about the importance of support groups. ‘Endometriosis isn’t very well known. It’s difficult to discuss with friends and family as they don’t fully get the disease.’ She explains that support groups ‘stop people from feeling alone. They allow people to speak openly without judgement with people who fully understand.’
For too long, the stigma of talking about periods and the lack of awareness of endometriosis has left people living with the condition to suffer in silence. We need to support those around us who have endometriosis and be sympathetic to the physical and mental impact it has on them. It’s also important to know the symptoms so you can recognise them in yourself. The NHS recommends anyone experiencing symptoms to contact a GP. For more information please visit the NHS website and Endometriosis UK: www.endometriosis-uk.org.
Image: Tim Marshall via Unsplash