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Could you be silently suffering from endometriosis?

26 Jul 2022

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Cramps, back pain and an upset stomach. These are all typical symptoms you routinely deal with during your monthly cycle, right?

But for about 120,000, or 1 in 10 Kiwi women, the suffering is more severe. If you’re experiencing pain that stops you from doing everyday activities, this could point toward a condition called endometriosis – and it too frequently goes undiagnosed.

Debilitating pain isn’t normal, and it’s important that you seek help. Learning what to look for and how endometriosis may differ from what’s normal is the first step.

The ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’

Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue that normally makes up the lining of the uterus grows in areas outside of the uterus.

A healthy woman sheds endometrial tissue when she has her period. However, in women with endometriosis some of the tissue ‘goes rogue’ and travels to other parts of the body.

It forms blisters which become cysts, and creates scar tissue or lesions. These lesions can cause pain and inflammation which can lead to irregular periods and infertility.

Three factors that can contribute to endometriosis include: genes, pre-existing inflammatory processes in the immune system and gut health.

The signs that point to endometriosis

The most common symptom is period pain that stops you from doing things, but there are many other symptoms that seem vague or unconnected.

Around puberty, it often starts with digestive problems like bloating (known as ‘endo-belly’) which clinicians now think is Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Other symptoms can include constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome.

Aside from debilitating period pain, one British study found women with endometriosis experienced multiple types of pain that affected many different parts of the body, including bowel, bladder, lungs, kidneys, nerves, upper body, lower limbs and head. Women also reported different types, patterns and intensity of pain. Researchers described this as ‘a constellation of pain’.

Conditions like inflammatory bowel syndrome and SIBO are also common alongside endometriosis. Recent studies have found that women with endometriosis have more permeable gut walls, meaning bacteria and toxins can pass through the gut wall and into the bloodstream. It's thought this may play a role in the development of chronic disease.

If you experience these symptoms, especially irregular periods, irregular bowel movements or excessive bleeding, you should consider making an appointment with your GP to get checked.

Seek a diagnosis

Although a definitive diagnosis can only be done by key hole surgery (laparoscopy), Ministry of Health guidelines explain there are less invasive ways to help diagnose the condition. For example, a physical examination, ultrasound or MRI, because even without a definitive diagnosis, early management is important for the physical and mental wellbeing of the patient, who may otherwise suffer unnecessarily.

It's now thought addressing lifestyle factors that contribute to worsening the condition may be valuable, alongside traditional approaches.

Your lifestyle could play a big role in relieving symptoms

Endometrial lesions are self-inflammatory (meaning the tissue itself generates inflammation) and lifestyle factors like diet and stress can worsen this inflammation. You may be able to reduce this by keeping an eye on your diet, avoiding inflammatory foods and increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables.

Track the results from the changes you make to your lifestyle, so you can see what works best for you.

Don’t forget to also practice self-care through physical exercise and stress reliving techniques such as mindfulness. These might help to manage symptoms.

Taking a holistic approach to managing endometriosis

We offer to eligible nib members, the nib Women’s Wellness Programmeˆˆ as part of the suite of Health Management Programmes* from nib. This free programme aims to help support nib members in the management of endometriosis. This three-month programme includes:

  • A consultation with ‘the health engineer’ Helen Cross
  • Six fortnightly 45 minute Zoom sessions
  • Advice on diet and lifestyle tailored to you and your specific symptoms
  • A folder full of information, recommendations and trackers for the full 12 weeks
  • Email support as needed
  • Fully funded for eligible nib members

nib members who have been diagnosed with Endometriosis or have had recent surgery for the condition are eligible to join nib’s Women’s Wellness Programmeˆ. For more information or to check if you’re eligible to join an nib Health Management Programme, email the nib clinical team at [email protected].

Please note: This article serves as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

ˆnib’s Health Management Programmes are available free of charge to eligible nib members with Hospital or Premium Hospital cover aged between 18 and 80. Terms and conditions apply.You can see the full range of nib Health Management Programmes on offer here. For more information or for the full list of Terms and Conditions, contact [email protected] and one of our clinical team will be in touch.

ˆˆDelivered in partnership with specialist health coach, Helen Cross, and other key programme partners.