Women can sometimes wait up to a decade before being diagnosed with endometriosis. With as many as one in 10 UK women being affected by this debilitating condition, we spoke to a professor of gynaecology about endometriosis, its symptoms and treatments. Professor Andrew Horne, whose research into endometriosis is currently funded by women’s health charity Wellbeing of Women, explains what we need to know about the reproductive condition.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrial cells lining the womb stick to other parts of the body forming endometriosis lesions, most commonly to the inside lining of the pelvis and the ovaries.
Endometriosis is a chronic and sometimes debilitating condition that is associated with painful periods, but can also be associated with pelvic pain when a woman is not menstruating, or pain with sexual intercourse. It may also be associated with fatigue, bowel and bladder problems, and fertility problems.
Why does it occur?
There is no one explanation but the endometrial tissue, wherever it is growing, acts just like the lining of the uterus – each month the cells multiply and swell, then break down ready to be shed. However, unlike the cells in the uterus that leave the blood as a period, this blood has no way to escape. The endometriosis lesions cause inflammation and damage, and can even form their own nerve and blood supply.
What are the side effects / what can this mean for a woman’s health?
Endometriosis can be associated with difficulties becoming pregnant, but even women with severe endometriosis can still have a baby naturally. It is estimated that 60-70% of women with endometriosis are fertile and can get pregnant spontaneously and have children. Of the women with fertility problems, a proportion will get pregnant, but often only after medical assistance – either surgery with removal of the endometriosis lesions or medically assisted reproduction (IVF).
How it can be treated?
Currently, there is no cure for endometriosis. However, with the right endometriosis treatment, the symptoms of endometriosis can be made more manageable. Treatment options available to women with endometriosis are pain relief, hormone treatments and surgical excision (usually key-hole surgery).
Andrew Horne, a Wellbeing of Women-funded specialist, is Professor of Gynaecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. He established the EXPPECT Endometriosis and the Pelvic Pain Services (www.exppectedinburgh.co.uk) based at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Since 2012 Professor Andrew Horne and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, have been investigating a group of genes that are thought to have a vital role in the development of endometriosis. In other parts of the body, this group of genes has effects on cell growth, cell survival and cell relationships, as well as on the development of new blood vessels. This research, funded by Wellbeing of Women, could lead to new drug treatments that block the development and progression of endometriosis. For further information or to donate, please visit the Wellbeing of Women website
ABOUT WELLBEING OF WOMEN
Wellbeing of Women is a unique health charity which has touched the lives of millions of women with its long history of funding ground-breaking medical research into women’s health concerns – over the last 50 years the charity has significantly improved the health of women and their families. Areas of research include pregnancy and birth (including IVF, miscarriage and preterm birth), gynaecological cancers and quality of life issues, such as menopause, which affect the daily lives of women all across the UK. Previously known as Birthright, Wellbeing of Women was founded in 1964 and has since pioneered the research which has resulted in many of the healthcare interventions for women which we all take for granted today – from increasing survival rates in premature babies and the introduction of fetal scanning in pregnancy to the importance of folic acid, both when planning to conceive and during pregnancy, Wellbeing has also funded research which identified the link between cervical cancer and the human papilloma virus, against which teenage girls are now routinely offered immunisation.