What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the womb (uterus) grows outside the uterus. The tissue can grow on different places near the uterus such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel, vagina and cervix.

For some people, this growth can cause a lot of pain of their periods. Other people show no signs at all.

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Associate Professor Emma Readman:

Endometriosis is a really common condition, I thought I would start at the beginning by telling you how the system works. So, if you could imagine a person standing with their arms out, the person standing, their body is the uterus, and the arms out are the fallopian tubes and at the end of the arms is the ovaries. So, every month you release an egg, and it goes down the fallopian tubes, into the uterus and it has to be ready to be fertilised. So, the lining’s there ready to be fertilised, and every month that lining has to be shed. Now, if that lining at the end of the month also shed backwards down the tubes and it goes into the pelvis, then it can stick in the pelvis and the pelvis can then let it stay there and it can grow and stick to other things. And that’s what Endometriosis is, the normal lining that you have in the uterus, outside the uterus, able to stick to things and also to bleed because it has irresponsiveness to hormones. But it does not mean that it just only found in the pelvis, sometimes it can be found elsewhere and they’re not just cells that have gone backwards down the tubes. They’re cells that have transformed; they have changed. They were some cells and are now become linings of the uterus cells, and therefore you can find endometriosis in other places.

What causes endometriosis?

Currently, the exact cause of endometriosis is unknown. What we do know is that if someone in your close family has endometriosis, you are 6 times more likely to have it too.

What are the signs of endometriosis

Pain, either on your period or between periods, is something that can be a sign of endometriosis.

If you are changing your usual activities due to pain or distress, for example missing school or avoiding exercise, that is not normal. It’s important to remember that the symptoms of endometriosis aren’t always obvious since the tissue cannot be detected without a surgery called a laparoscopy.

You should speak to your GP if you’re concerned about any prolonged or extreme period pain.

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Associate Professor Emma Readman:

Well, if you can imagine, whenever you can get your period, you will have bleeding. That bleeding is normal, and you have a bit of crampy pain because the bleeding is a bit inflammatory. But that crampy pain can become quite intense and that’s not normal. And then it can start to have pain in between your periods, or pain when you are sexually active or pain when you use your bowels or bladder, particularly when you have your period. They would be really common things. But a lot of people with endometriosis actually don’t have any symptoms and that’s actually quite hard to diagnose, so they might come in just not getting pregnant, and then we might find that say on an ultrasound or if we did allow a laparoscopy.

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Hi, it's Tori from the Vermillion Project. I'm here to talk to you about my journey with endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a chronic, incurable health condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body. It can affect people of different genders, sizes, races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

My journey with endometriosis started over 16 years ago. I experienced pelvic pain, fatigue, mobility issues and digestive issues. I unfortunately only received a diagnosis for endometriosis thirteen years after the onset of my symptoms.

My advice to anyone who suspects they have endometriosis is to find a GP and endometriosis excision specialist who validate your concerns, address your needs, and leave you with all your questions answered.

Quality care starts with acknowledgement, empathy, and education. Remember that there are organisations like the Vermillion Project, Endometriosis Australia, and QENDO that can lend a helping hand.