Understanding health complications and girly problems isn’t exactly easy (and never fun explaining) so here are some brief descriptions and details on the conditions I live with. Remember that the severity and regularity of symptoms will differ for every individual.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a reasonably common condition where the tissue that lines the uterus is found to be growing where it shouldn't, outside the uterus. In New Zealand it is estimated the condition affects one in 10 women. While it cannot always be cured, endometriosis can usually be effectively treated through lifestyle modifications, medication or surgery.
Endometriosis is a condition that develops slowly and tends to worsen as it progresses. The most common symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pelvic pain - often, but not always, associated with menstrual periods - the pain can be severe and debilitating
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding (heavy periods or bleeding between periods)
- Difficulty or inability to get pregnant
- Lower back pain
- Bowel pain, bloating, pain with passing wind or pain when passing a bowel motion.
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Constant tiredness
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Depression and mood disturbances
- Pain before or while passing urine or recurrent urinary tract infections
What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition characterised by the development of multiple cysts in the ovaries. It has a range of hormonal and metabolic effects and is a common cause of infertility. Symptoms can begin to appear in childhood or adolescence, and continues for the entirety of a woman’s life.
While polycystic ovary syndrome cannot be cured, it can usually be effectively treated. When left untreated there is an increased risk of high cholesterol levels, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial cancer. There are a number of symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome which vary in nature and severity from woman to woman. These include:
- Irregular periods
- Excess hair growth on the face and body
- Weight gain
- Acne and oily skin
- Hair loss
The cause of PCOS is not fully understood. The condition has a tendency to run in families and a gene influencing the development of the condition has been identified. It is though that the following factors also influence its development:
- Excessive levels of male hormones being made in the ovaries
- A problem with the enzymes involved in male hormone production
- A problem with insulin metabolism known as insulin resistance
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the small and large intestine (bowel). Its cause is unknown, while symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain and alternating constipation and diarrhoea. There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome so the aim of treatment is to control symptoms. In many cases, this can be achieved by managing diet, lifestyle and stress.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerance can be a result of a sensitivity to naturally occurring chemicals in food. A common food intolerance is to lactose, the sugar found in milk products. This is caused by a shortage of the enzyme lactase needed to help the body break down latse in the stomach. An allergic reaction to milk is also possible when the body reacts to milk protein, although the symptoms will differ.
In food intolerance, the body’s immune system does not create antibodies as in an allergic reaction. However, symptoms can be seen both immediately and up to 20 hours after a food is eaten as in an allergic reaction, so it can be sometimes hard to distinguish between the two. In contrast to some food allergies, food intolerances aren’t life threatening but they can impact on health and quality of life. Unfortunately, they can be problematic to diagnose as many of the symptoms - such as bloating, wind, diarrhoea and stomach pain - are unspecific and difficult to attribute to a particular food.
The smallest traces of a food can trigger an allergic reaction, whereas small amounts of a food can usually be eaten before symptoms appear in most food intolerances. The amount tolerated, however, depends on the individual.
The Chronic Pain Condition
If you have pain on most days, or several different pains, you may have wondered why your body is so sensitive. Someone may have told you ‘it’s all in your head’. You don’t need to worry that you are weak, or that the pain is imaginary. It’s real, but it may be something you haven’t thought of. Often it is a change in the way the nerves, spinal cord and brain work called neuropathic pain or central sensitisation. Pain from nerves is yet another pain you can’t see at a laparoscopy, and part of what doctors call the “Chronic Pain Condition.’
When something painful happens to us, the nerves in that area send pain signals to the spinal cord and then up to our brain. It is when the brain notices the pain that we feel it. Sometimes, after bad pain, or if there has been pain for a long time, the pain pathways from the pelvis to the brain change. The structure of the nerves change and they start sending pain impulses to the brain at any time, not just when something painful is happening. The brain changes too, and starts to feel pain even with normal sensations like touch or normal bowel function. Central sensitisation is very common in women with pelvic pain, but it is also common after back injuries, or shingles.
Neuropathic pain affects our mood too. Women who have managed their pain well for years, may start to feel ‘worn down’ by their pain or anxious about things they don’t need to be anxious about.
Endometriosis - symptoms, diagnosis, surgery, treatment
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Food allergies and intolerance
Pelvic Pain ebook 2012