Endometriosis is the condition whereby the same type of tissue that lines the womb (the endometrium) grows in other areas of the body such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, bowel, vagina or rectum. In a normal menstrual cycle, the cells in the endometrium thicken ready to receive a fertilised egg; this is then shed as a period when a pregnancy does not occur. The same thickening and swelling also occurs within endometrium tissue that has built up outside the womb, except that in this instance the body has no way of shedding it. As such, the abnormal tissue keeps on growing, causing painful adhesions and damage to the pelvic organs which in turn can lead to fertility problems.
Endometriosis is estimated to affect approximately two million women in the UK. It is seen most frequently in women between the ages of 25 and 40 and is more common amongst Asian women than Caucasian or Afro Caribbean women. Research also points to the hereditary nature of the disease as well as to other causes such as immune disfunction.
Whilst it can be symptomless, some women can experience signs such as abnormal periods, abdominal, pelvic or back pain, discomfort during or after sexual intercourse, pain when going to the toilet and fertility problems. It is important to note that the severity of the symptoms is not necessarily proportionate to how serious the condition is; the smallest amount of endometriosis can cause severe pain. Equally, an extensive problem can go almost unnoticed, which is why it is advisable to have a thorough examination before drawing too many conclusions from your symptoms.