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Healthy body

Could your painful periods be endometriosis?

Jenny Hewett suffered severe cramps for years before realising something was wrong

By Jenny Hewett
26 Apr 2016 | 04:01 pm
  • Source:Getty Images

In 2009, at 5.30am on a Monday, an excruciating pain awoke me from my sleep. It was a crippling, breath-stopping pain.
 I was just 26, had moved to Dubai a few months earlier to start a new life, and was pursuing a career that I loved. Unable to move or speak, I called my mum, who was sleeping in the next room. She rushed to my side and in the morning she helped me hobble into hospital. Within two weeks I had flown to Australia, had urgent laparoscopic surgery and was diagnosed with severe endometriosis.

And so began my relationship with this chronic illness.

A persistent menace

Endometriosis affects one in 10 women during their childbearing years – a staggering 176 million women worldwide.

It’s a painful disease that occurs when tissue from the uterus, or endometrium, grows outside of the uterus, typically in the abdomen. When you menstruate each month, this tissue bleeds as it would in the uterus, causing adhesions and scar tissue.

A trespasser of the highest order, it affects every aspect of your day-to-day life. There’s no cure, the cause is unknown and it can generally only be detected and treated with laparoscopic or keyhole surgery.

I had surgery with top Australian endoscopic specialist Prof Alan Lam. On inspection, he found I had stage-four endometriosis; it was growing in my abdomen, bowel and bladder. 
My organs were fused together.

An earlier ultrasound in Dubai had revealed I had an 7cm cyst on my left ovary, which had ruptured, causing the severe sudden pain.

All the signs had been there. I had suffered cramps since I was a teen and relied heavily on painkillers, but it was in my nature to be resilient. Having no awareness of the disease, I believed weathering pain was a normal part of being a woman. It took a debilitating blow to my body to make me finally take notice.

Making adjustments

Since 2009, I‘ve had two surgeries and take a contraceptive pill continuously so that I don’t get my period. I have made some huge changes to my lifestyle that have helped enormously. I exercise five times a week, which boosts my mood, and I eat healthily about 95 per cent of the time.

Endometriosis is a strong factor in infertility, and this year I was diagnosed with adenomyosis (where the endometrium grows into the muscle wall of the uterus), which further reduces my chances of carrying a baby.

Naturally, there is an overwhelming sadness that comes with this disease that I find hard to shake at times. But I can’t dwell on it. 
I’ve had a privileged upbringing, was born into an incredibly supportive family, have the closest of friends and love what I do. There is no quick fix for this illness, but it’s possible not to let it defeat you.

10 ways to make your endometriosis more manageable

1 If you smoke, quit now. The toxins in tobacco smoke can heighten the symptoms of endometriosis.

2 Avoid refined and processed foods, red meats or anything loaded with chemicals, which can increase inflammation.

3 Avoid any foods that stimulate the body and trigger cramps, such as caffeine or cola.

4 Doctors say that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that yoga aids in the treatment of endometriosis.

5 Try acupuncture, not just for pain relief; it can also help in the case of infertility.

6 Take time to rest when you need it.

7 Eat a healthy diet of foods high in fibres, leafy greens and fatty acids.

8 Nuts and seeds are great for their essential oils, which are anti-inflammatory.

9 Drink plenty of water.

10 Get plenty of exercise to balance your hormones and boost your mood.


The truth about endometriosis

SYMPTOMS It is difficult to diagnose. Symptoms include painful periods, lower back pain, depression, mood swings and diarrhoea.

 

INFERTILITY It can lead to infertility, but many affected women are still able to conceive naturally.

 

MENTAL HEALTH It can affect your mental health as much as your physical health. Depression and anxiety are common in women with endometriosis. If you’re depressed, seek help from a counsellor who has experience in chronic illnesses.

 

REST Sufferers need rest – lots of it. Some days all you can do is lie down, and that’s OK.

 

TIME Your work and social life will be affected.

 

PREGNANCY Ironically, being pregnant temporarily suppresses the symptoms. But pregnancy is not a permanent cure.

 

HOSPITALISATION You will probably need to have surgeries throughout your life.

 

SUPPORT There are a number of online of support groups including @endostrong on Instagram.

By Jenny Hewett

By Jenny Hewett