Endometriosis is a condition that affects women and girls of reproductive age and is usually characterised by chronic pain, particularly around the time of menstruation. According to study around 1.5 million UK-based women in their childbearing years suffer from the disorder, which amounts to around one in ten. As any gynaecologist in London will tell you, however, the condition is seriously under-diagnosed, with many women going years without understanding their symptoms.
What exactly is endometriosis?
Endometriosis happens when a woman’s endometrium (or uterine lining) grows in places other than the uterus.
The so-called ‘endometrial lesions’ created grow in other areas of the body just as they would in the uterus. However, as they cannot be shed in the same way that uterine tissue is during menstruation, they can bleed into certain areas of the body, potentially affecting a woman’s organs. Typically, endometrial lesions occur on the ovaries, lymph nodes, fallopian tubes, and peritoneum.
Whilst endometriosis often causes pain, according to recent research around 20-25% of women with the condition do not experience any symptoms. This is often referred to as ‘silent endometriosis’.
How is silent endometriosis diagnosed?
The fact that endometriosis is usually associated with crippling pain means that those with the asymptomatic form of the condition can go undiagnosed for years. Indeed, a study published in 2011 found that around 11% of women have undiagnosed endometriosis, something that could have huge implications for their wellbeing and fertility.
In the absence of pain, endometriosis can be detected by the following symptoms:
– Hormonal imbalances
– Ovarian cysts
– Other chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or thyroid problems
– Issues with libido
– Depression and anxiety
– Problems with conceiving
Of the above list, issues surrounding fertility are usually the first symptom women with silent endometriosis will notice. Indeed, ovarian cysts and hormonal imbalances, for example, can produce very subtle symptoms that women either ignore or ascribe to other conditions.
What is the connection between silent endometriosis and infertility?
There are a number of reasons why silent endometriosis can cause infertility issues, including:
1. Endometrial tissue can affect the fallopian tube
If a lesion grows on the fallopian tube, the egg released by the ovary may not be able to reach the uterus.
2. The quality of eggs may be compromised
The ovarian cysts created by endometriosis can affect the ovaries’ ability to generate a robust number of high-quality eggs.
3. Endometriosis affects a woman’s immune system
Silent endometriosis can cause inflammatory issues in the pelvis that can damage the ovaries or follicles, thereby making conception very difficult.
What to do if you think you have silent endometriosis
If you’re having trouble conceiving or experience any of the subtle symptoms above, you may have silent endometriosis. Fortunately, a gynaecologist will be able to help attain a diagnosis and manage the disease. If you’re looking for a gynaecologist in London, please do not hesitate to give us a call.