Endometriosis: what to look out for and how to get help


Mr Alfred Cutner, who heads up the Endometriosis Centre at King Edward VII’s Hospital, explains how and when to seek treatment for this painful and often debilitating gynaecological condition

Endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK, affecting up to 10% of women. It results from tissue similar to the lining of the womb being present in other areas of the pelvic cavity or beyond. It commonly affects the ovaries, where cysts may develop. It can also be present in the tissues between the vagina and the bowel and around the bladder, and on occasion invade the tissues of these organs. This may result in adhesions, and the pelvic organs being less mobile. Women with the condition often suffer with debilitating pain during their periods. They may develop pain during sex, pain opening their bowels and pain passing urine. They may also go on to develop chronic pelvic pain or blood in the stools or urine.

It is not surprising that a recent survey from King Edward VII’s Hospital found that these symptoms are having a serious impact on women’s lives. One in four (25%) say their symptoms have left them with poor mental health, and almost seven in 10 say that their pain stops them from functioning in their day-to-day lives. For one in 10, their symptoms have sadly caused issues in their relationship.

Despite this, it can often take seven years or longer for women to get a diagnosis, and worryingly, the hospital’s survey showed that during the pandemic fewer than one in four women (24%) with potential symptoms sought medical help.

King Edward VII’s Hospital

Mr Alfred Cutner heads up the Endometriosis Centre at King Edward VII’s Hospital, a renowned private endometriosis centre accredited by the British Society for Gynaecological Endoscopy (BSGE). Here, he explains what to look out for and how to get help:

Spot the signs The most common symptoms are severe period pain, painful sexual intercourse and painful bowel movements, but other symptoms can include back pain, blood in the urine, symptoms similar to IBS, fatigue and difficulty getting pregnant.

Speak up Some women feel that their symptoms are ‘just normal for me’, but it’s important to raise them with your GP if they are having an impact on your life. This might include things like having to take days off work each month, missing out on social activities because you’re feeling unwell, or if your mental health is being affected.

Record your symptoms Before you visit your GP, it will help if you write down your symptoms and the times that you get them, so that you can discuss them properly with your doctor.

Don’t struggle alone We know that many women with potential symptoms of endometriosis have felt that they had to go it alone during the pandemic, and have been trying to manage with diet, exercise, over-the-counter medication or Dr Google. But it’s important to seek medical help sooner rather than later so that a treatment plan can get underway.

Don’t delay due to the pandemic If you have symptoms that you’re worried about, it’s important to still seek help. Lots of doctors are now conducting appointments over the phone or over video calls, so you may not have to go to a GP surgery or hospital in person. If a physical examination is necessary, medical staff have taken every precaution to keep patients safe. There might be some new rules to follow when you attend your appointment, so make sure you read any letters or correspondence carefully.

Ensure you are supported each step of the way King Edward VII’s Hospital’s Endometriosis Centre will support you every step of the way, from diagnosis to treatment. You don’t need to feel alone if you get an endometriosis diagnosis.