Endometriosis affects thousands of women every year, but what is it and how can you spot it?

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The condition can affect women of any age, but it's most common in women in their 30s and 40s and is a long-term condition and can have a big impact on your life.

What are the symptoms?

Pain in your lower tummy or back, usually worse during your period

Period pain that stops you doing your normal activities

Pain during or after sex

Pain when peeing or pooing during your period

Feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee during your period

Difficulty getting pregnant

You may also have heavy periods, you might use lots of pads or tampons, or you may bleed through your clothes.

There is currently no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments that can help ease the symptoms.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have symptoms of endometriosis, especially if they're having a big impact on your life.

It can be difficult to diagnose endometriosis because the symptoms can vary considerably, and many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms, and may ask to examine your tummy and vagina.

They may recommend treatments if they think you have endometriosis.

If these do not help, they might refer you to a specialist called a gynaecologist for some further tests, such as an ultrasound scan or laparoscopy.

A laparoscopy is where a surgeon passes a thin tube through a small cut in your tummy so they can see any patches of endometriosis tissue. This is the only way to be certain you have endometriosis.

Treatments include

Painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol

Hormone medicines and contraceptives, including the combined pill, the contraceptive patch, an intrauterine system, and medicines called gonadotrophin-releasing hormone and analogues

surgery to cut away patches of endometriosis tissue.

An operation to remove part or all of the organs affected by endometriosis, such as surgery to remove the womb.

Your doctor will discuss the options with you. Sometimes they may suggest not starting treatment immediately to see if your symptoms improve on their own.

Further problems caused by endometriosis

One of the main complications of endometriosis is difficulty getting pregnant or not being able to get pregnant at all.

Surgery to remove endometriosis tissue can help improve your chances of getting pregnant, although there's no guarantee that you'll be able to get pregnant after treatment.

Surgery for endometriosis can also sometimes cause further problems, such as infections, bleeding or damage to affected organs.

If surgery is recommended for you, talk to your surgeon about the possible risks.

As well as support from your doctor, you may find it helpful to contact a support group, such as Endometriosis UK, for information and advice.

In addition to detailed information about endometriosis, Endometriosis UK has a directory of local support groups, a helpline on 0808 808 2227, and an online community for women affected by the condition.