HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU'VE GOT ENDOMETRIOSIS?
The Process of Elimination
Even though endometriosis is such a common disease, many women are still failing to get a diagnosis. The average delay between the onset of their symptoms and a positive diagnosis is approximately seven years. There are several different factors which cause this delay in a diagnosis, and most of them are due to stupidity and lack of awareness. These factors include the following:
When you do get an appointment and know that you are going to see a gynaecologist, then it might be a good idea to write all of your questions down on a piece of paper. It is also handy to keep a list of your symptoms, or even a diary so that you can tell your gynaecologist as much as you possibly can about your pain and symptoms.
There are some charts on the Internet which you can print out, such as a menstrual calendar, and a pain chart. These are incredibly useful to take along with you, as they can help your gynae assess your pain, just by looking at a chart.
Before anything else, your gynaecologist will want to know as much as possible about your medical history. Therefore you will be asked a whole range of questions, and even though it might feel as though you are being interrogated, the more honest you are about your symptoms – however embarrassing they might be – the more your doctor can help. I've tried to write down as many questions as I can remember from my own experience, so that you may get an idea of what sort of questions you'll be asked. Please remember, these are questions that I've been asked over the years by various different doctors. Therefore don't expect to be asked each and every one of them...but do expect to be asked a lot, especially if your gynaecologist is thorough.
As I mentioned before, please don't be alarmed at the amount of questions here. I very much doubt that you will be asked each and every question, but you will be asked about your menstrual cycle, your pain and whether or not you've been pregnant before. I know that a lot of the questions are personal and can be embarrassing if you're not used to visiting the gynaecologist. However, the more you help the doctors, the more likely it is that they'll be able to help you. If you are lucky, you will be seen by someone who knows about endometriosis and who recognises the warning signs.
More and more junior doctors are being trained to look for endometriosis, so don't be alarmed if you do see a young doctor. Having said this, there are still doctors out there who can miss the symptoms, and who will end up sending you home. Hopefully though, if you suffer from what they regard as classic symptoms, then they should put two and two together.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what your symptoms are. What matters is that you are listened to and believed - so that they can find out what's wrong with you. If all the signs point in the direction that something isn't quite right, then you will have to be examined, internally as well as externally. Before they decide whether or not you need further investigation, doctors need to know that they haven't missed anything else, such as appendicitis, an ovarian cyst or an ectopic pregnancy. All three problems can cause severe bouts of pelvic pain, and need to be ruled out, before anything else is decided upon. Ectopic pregnancies are especially dangerous if missed, so you will probably have an ultrasound scan, just to rule that particular problem out.
Being examined by a doctor can be a fairly traumatic experience at the best of times, especially if you have never had an internal examination before. When you are in a huge amount of pain, and are terrified of the doctor causing you more pain, then it can sometimes be a little too much.
Before your doctor does an internal examination, he will have a good feel of the outside of your pelvis first. He will ask you to point to where the pain is and will gradually feel his way around the stomach area, and then down to the pelvis. Doctors have to press quite hard, to see if they can feel any swellings or abnormalities, so they could end up making your pain worse. What happens then, is that you tense all of your muscles up, and make it impossible for the doctor to do anything for you. It is incredibly hard to try to relax whilst you're experiencing all of this pain, but it's easier all round if you do.
If you have never had an internal examination before, let your doctor know. Most doctors are incredibly gentle during an internal examination and will stop if you ask them to, especially if they're hurting you too much. I know how hard it is to relax during an internal examination, but again, the more you can let your muscles go, the easier it is for the both of you. Your doctor is able to examine you a lot more effectively if you're muscles are relaxed.
Once you have been examined, your doctor will then decide on the next course of action. If he thinks that there is something really wrong, and that needs to be done immediately, you may find yourself being admitted into the hospital for an emergency laparoscopy.
However, if he's unsure of what the problem might be, then you will probably have to have more tests done. Usually, this involves a visit to the Ultrasound department, to see if anything shows up on an abdominal scan. More often than not, it doesn't because endometriosis doesn't show up on Ultrasound. However, if you have an endometrial cyst or endometrioma, then these do show up on Ultrasound, and give the doctors something to go on.
At the end of the day, the only way to positively diagnose endometriosis, is by having an operation called a laparoscopy. Usually, women with endometriosis do get diagnosed in the end, because doctors eventually run out of ideas. However, if you are lucky, as I said before, and they suspect endometriosis, then you will be put on the waiting list for an operation almost immediately.
During a laparoscopy a tiny incision is made just below your navel, and a miniature camera is inserted into your pelvis. By looking inside your pelvis through this camera, doctors can determine whether or not you have endometriosis. If you do have endo, then they will make a couple more minute incisions below your bikini line, through which they are able to remove the endometrial implants and any other abnormalities that they might find, such as cysts and adhesions.
Sometimes, however, if the endometriosis is extensive and large areas of the pelvis are covered, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and bowel, then they may end up having to do a laparotomy. This is where a larger incision is made, across the bikini line, so that the doctors can access the areas affected by the endometriosis more efficiently.
There are currently three methods of “zapping” the endometrial implants. Diathermy, laser surgery and the Helica Treatment. There are still very few doctors in the UK who use laser surgery for endometriosis, and usually women having surgery will have diathermy used to destroy their endometriosis.
You will be sore after your laparoscopy, but if you take things easy for a couple of days, you should be up and about after 3 – 4 days. However, if you have had a lot of surgery done, you need to take things easy for a while longer, and make sure that you heal properly on the inside. Just because the cut is small on the outside, it doesn’t mean that the operation was small on the inside. It can take up to 8 weeks to recover from some laparoscopic surgery, so do ask your doctor before you start running a marathon.
The recovery period for a laparotomy is about 6 – 8 weeks.
Once you have had a positive diagnosis for endometriosis, you will have more questions on your mind, about treatments options, fertility options and how you are going to tackle the disease.
Just remember to take it one step at a time. You've only just been diagnosed with the disease, so don't go jumping the gun about what you want to do next. Take some time thinking it over and read as much as you can about the condition. The more you know about the disease and what options are available to you, the more you can help yourself learn how to live with it, and decide on where you want to go.
My Story | What is Endometriosis | What are the Symptoms | Diagnosing Endo | Treating Endo | Oxford's Support Group | A Letter To Lee | Other People's Reactions | What about the Men? | Coming to Terms with Pain | Feelings invoked by my Pain | Problems With Sleep | Tips and Tricks | Poems and Quotations | Endometriosis Links | Endo Sisters | Women's Health Links | Pelvic Pain Links | Some Light Relief |