Every year, March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is a common and painful condition that affects 1 in 10 Australian women – but more awareness and research is needed. Symptoms vary and can impact fertility, with it often affecting the reproductive organs but also, in some cases, the bowel and bladder.
This month, Tidings is focusing in on endometriosis: why it happens, how it happens, the impact it has on women and society, and what we can do about it.
Between women’s health forums and chats with your girlfriends, you may have heard that endometriosis disappears when you’re pregnant.
If you have endometriosis, you’ve probably wondered (and hoped) that it's actually true. Unfortunately, and like any great false belief, the "pregnancy cure" solution to endometriosis is only *kind of* true, and not in the way you'd hope.
Getting pregnant doesn’t cure endometriosis
Before you start calling your friends out on the group chat for giving you misinformation, cut them some slack. Getting pregnant can ease the symptoms of endometriosis, thereby making you feel as though your condition has improved or gone away completely. For this reason alone most women feel as though pregnancy has "cured" their endometriosis, but they are mistaken. Endometriosis symptoms will come back once you’ve given birth.
In reality, your body isn’t going through the normal hormone fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle (because you’re pregnant) and therefore your endometriosis isn’t being aggravated.
Wait, so what’s going down there when I’m pregnant and have endometriosis?
To explain why the symptoms of endometriosis are sometimes lessened by pregnancy, we first have to explain what goes on during a normal cycle and how that differs.
During a normal cycle, estrogen and progesterone stimulate growth of the lining of your uterus. This makes a cushy little bed for the embryo that your body is anticipating. When conception doesn’t occur, or when you stop taking The Pill, estrogen and progesterone levels drop and the uterus lining sheds (this is what your period is).
With endometriosis, the process is a bit different. Instead, the endometrial tissue or uterus lining has started to grow outside your uterus. When your period comes, like all of the other endometrial tissue in the uterus, it decides to shed. this endometrial tissue outside your uterus causes inflammation that can result in significant pain.
Your body has evolved to expect blood in your blood vessels – not in your abdomen, pelvis, or even chest (as can occur in endometriosis). As a result, blood in these places causes a massive inflammatory reaction, which is why endometriosis can be so excruciating.
Why does pregnancy stop the pain of endometriosis?
Put simply, when you’re pregnant, none of the above occurs. Your hormones are altered to ensure that the uterine lining is kept intact to support your embryo.
In the same way that the uterus lining doesn’t shed, neither does the endometrial tissue that is growing outside of the uterus. Everything stays put while you are pregnant, and this means the symptoms of endometriosis are temporarily on hold.
This is why people often think that pregnancy "cures" endometriosis. While you’re pregnant, you are likely to stop experiencing the painful symptoms that you have become accustomed to, however this does not mean that your condition is cured.
Will endometriosis symptoms come back after giving birth?
We’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but yes – your symptoms will likely come back after giving birth even if they have seemed to improve during pregnancy.
While breastfeeding might delay the return of symptoms, as soon as your periods start again your symptoms will likely come back.
To combat this, you should speak to a doctor who can advise you on the best ways to manage your symptoms. Although there is no official cure for endometriosis, there are ways to reduce the pain and ensure that you can continue living a normal life with the condition.
For more information on the ways that you can look after yourself when you have endometriosis, take a look at the Kin Fertility guide to Endometriosis.