When painful periods mean something more

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Treatment for UTI

Feeling a little more irritable than normal? Has exhaustion got you beat? What about bloating – is your belly more extended than usual?

These symptoms combined with heavy, painful periods and significant pain could be signs that something is up.

Endo what?

Did you know that more than 10% of Australian women, some 830,000, suffer from endometriosis?

And according to Donna Ciccia, Director and cofounder of Endometriosis Australia, the debilitating condition often begins in the teenage years.

National ‘not-for-profit’ organisation Jean Hailes for Women’s Health describes endometriosis as “a condition that occurs when cells similar to those that line the uterus are found in other parts of the body”. (Jean Hailes, 2020.)

Most commonly occurring in the pelvis, endometriosis “can affect a woman’s reproductive organs” and may cause pain, heavy bleeding, irregular menstrual bleeds, bleeding longer than normal, bladder and bowel problems, bloating, fatigue, mood swings (anxiety and depression), reduced quality of life, and vaginal discomfort. (Jean Hailes, 2020.)

Telling signs

According to Dr Tal Jacobson from Eve Health and Mater Hospital in Brisbane, a gynaecologist with an interest in the condition, the “most common symptoms [of endometriosis] are:

  • Heavy, painful periods
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pain on opening your bowels
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Infertility or difficulty with conceiving
  • And rarer symptoms such as “bladder pain or bladder irritability”.

“The more mild and moderate signs of endometriosis are few and far between until you do a laparoscopy, which is when you can do a diagnosis,” he said.

Ms Ciccia points out that because “symptoms are variable, this may contribute to [a potential] seven- to 12-year delay in diagnosis”.

How to manage endometriosis

Although, as Dr Jacobson points out, endometriosis tends to be a “lifelong condition and despite removing the endometriosis surgically, you may not be able to remove all of it, or it may recur”, there are ways to manage the painful condition.

Ms Ciccia says the main ways of managing endometriosis are through medication, surgery, and complementary and allied health treatments (physiotherapy, psychology, etc).

Lifestyle changes can help in managing the condition, according to Dr Jacobson. These include:

  • Dietary changes such as less red meat, more vegetables – an overall healthier lifestyle.
  • Maintain physical fitness.
  • Hormonal treatments.
  • Pain medications such as NSAIDS and paracetamol.
  • Seeking help from a pelvic floor physiotherapist.
  • Seeking help form a psychologist for strategies to manage pain.

Other options include acupuncture, heat packs and yoga.

In terms of alternative approaches, Dr Jacobson adds that curcumin and ginger capsules have been shown to be beneficial in the management of endometriosis.

How can a pharmacy assistant can help?

It’s important pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to be aware of the severity of this disease – it’s more than just a bad period.

And sending someone home with just some Panadol may not be enough.

According to Dr Jacobson, pharmacy assistants need to dig a little deeper when it comes to this condition.

“You need to get a history in order to understand their concerns at the time,” he said. “Is it about fertility or is it about pain, and what aspects of pain? It’s about trying to assess what it is they’re looking for and need.”

Most importantly, as pharmacy assistants you play an important role in providing support to women who may be suffering from endometriosis.

To read the full feature as it appears in the May issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants magazine, click here.