It’s Endometriosis Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to increase our understanding of the signs and symptoms that 10% of women experience.
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Its most common symptom is chronic pelvic pain, but you can also experience intense menstrual cramps, pain during sex and a heavy flow during your period.
Because endometriosis affects the reproductive system, it can also be confused with other conditions, such as PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
Here, Valentina Milanova, women’s health expert and founder of Daye, a gynaecological health company that is on a mission to close the gender gap in medical research and innovation by creating convenient products for period pain, at-home STI testing and the treatment of vaginal infections, answers some questions on the endo vs pcos debate.
What is endometriosis?
“Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing chronic pain, GI issues and/or infertility. It’s a full-body disease, with endometrial-like tissue having been found growing on every organ of the body, including the brain and lungs.
“At present, there is no cure for the illness, and treatments for the condition vary widely, with many misconceptions about how things like hormonal birth control or hysterectomies will contribute to a person’s symptom reduction.”
What is PCOS?
“Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a chronic condition most known for affecting how the ovaries work. The three main features doctors look for when diagnosing are irregular periods, excess androgen (high levels of testosterone or physical signs like excess body hair) and polycystic ovaries.
“If you have at least two of these symptoms, you are more likely to get diagnosed. As it is such a complex syndrome, there is very limited (and often) incorrect information available to the public, which makes recognising and understanding the symptoms very tricky.”
How do their symptoms differ?
“Endometriosis is associated with symptoms such as painful periods, pain during sex, painful bowel movements or urination, heavy bleeding during periods, infertility, and fatigue. The symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, acne, excessive hair growth, weight gain, mood changes, and possible infertility. Some additional differences between endometriosis and PCOS include:
“Causes: Endometriosis is caused by the growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, while PCOS is caused by an imbalance in hormone levels.
“Diagnosis: Endometriosis can be diagnosed through a pelvic exam, ultrasound, or laparoscopy (a surgical procedure that allows a doctor to see inside the abdomen). PCOS can be diagnosed by blood tests and an ultrasound to look for ovarian cysts.”
Despite their differences, there are some commonalities between endometriosis and PCOS:
“Both conditions can cause infertility and pelvic pain. Both conditions can be managed with hormonal birth control, such as the hormonal coil or hormonal pill.”
Treatments for endometriosis and PCOS:
“At present, there is no cure for endometriosis, but treatments to ease discomfort may include pain relief medication, hormonal birth control, or surgery to remove the endometrial tissue.
“Treatment for PCOS may include lifestyle changes such as weight loss and exercise, hormonal birth control to regulate periods and control androgen levels, or medications such as metformin to help regulate insulin levels. In some cases, fertility treatments may be necessary to help women with PCOS get pregnant.”