Symptoms of endometriosis: what you need to know

Clinical Fellow at Bupa UK
06 March 2017

It’s not unusual for many women to experience unpleasant physical or mental symptoms when it comes to their monthly period. But you may be too embarrassed to talk about how you feel, or you’ve learned to put up with irregular and painful periods and treat them as normal.

But this week is Endometriosis Awareness Week, and as a condition that affects around one in 10 women of childbearing age in the UK – it’s time to get talking about it.  Read on to find out what endometriosis is, what symptoms to look out for and when you should take action.

Image of two young girls lay side by side.

What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is when cells, like the ones which would usually line your womb, are found in other parts of your body. Just like when you have your period, every month these cells will build up and then break down and bleed. However, as these cells aren’t in your womb, they can’t leave the body in the same way your period would. This can cause pain, swelling and scarring.

Areas of endometriosis are most common around your pelvis, fallopian tubes, ovaries or on the outside of your womb. They may also form on the tissues that hold your womb in position. Less commonly, endometriosis may occur around your rectum, vagina, bladder or bowel.

It’s important to know that endometriosis isn’t a form of cancer or an infection. What’s more, it can’t be passed from one person to another.

What are the symptoms of endometriosis?

The symptoms of endometriosis will vary from woman to woman. Some women experience no symptoms at all, whilst others can have several. The severity of these can be different for each person too. To add to this, many of the symptoms of endometriosis are the same as those known for other conditions. So it can be very difficult to diagnose.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

Graphic showing the first common symptom of endometriosis: Painful or heavy periods
Graphic showing the second common symptom of endometriosis: Pain in your lower abdominal area
Graphic showing the third common symptom of endometriosis: Painful sex
Graphic showing the fourth common symptom of endometriosis: Problems with fertility
Graphic showing the fifth common symptom of endometriosis: Feeling depressed 

Other symptoms you may experience, but are less common include:

  • pain when you wee or poo
  • blood in your wee or poo
  • diarrhoea or constipation

What does it feel like?

Sarah, 32, who was diagnosed with endometriosis in her late twenties, describes how her symptoms felt.

My main symptom was pain in my lower abdomen. Sometimes it would shoot down the backs of my legs too. The pain would feel nagging and heavy, and I wouldn’t be able to block it out. If I was at work, in the pub, or sitting on a bus, I would find it difficult to keep still. I would squirm and have to go home, feeling poorly and upset, and angry that my body was letting me down. Sometimes I’d think I was imagining it all or that what was happening was normal and I just couldn’t cope with it like other people could. It dented my self-esteem and had a big effect on my social life.

I would want a hot water bottle all the time – even in the summer months!  I even got red marks on my tummy from the heat of having the hot water bottle permanently clutched to my stomach. Not only would I have awful cramps two to three weeks out of every four (the pain would come on a week or so before and carry on for another week after my period), I’d feel so tired and my mood would dip spectacularly. I felt more poorly than I did well. Getting diagnosed (I had a laparoscopy and the endo removed) and ongoing treatment (taking hormonal contraception) completely changed my life.

If you‘re concerned or have any of the symptoms listed above, don’t suffer in silence. Make an appointment to see your GP. They’ll be able to talk through your concerns and discuss your options with you.

For more information and advice, take a look at our topic page on endometriosis or visit the Endometriosis UK website.

Dr Jemma Batte
Clinical Fellow at Bupa UK

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