As you probably all know endometriosis has a list of symptoms as long as my arm (and I have long arms), which is one of the major barriers to speedy diagnosis. Some of the symptoms are more common (or more well recognised) than others. For example, painful, heavy periods and pain during intercourse are two of the most widely reported. In my experience some of the least well recognised symptoms of endometriosis are painful bowel movements (often dismissed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and chronic fatigue (often just dismissed).
However, a recent study has highlighted one of the least well recognised symptoms, abdominal bloating. Chances are, if you have endometriosis or not, you have experienced abdominal bloating but might have thought it was just caused by something you ate. This study took 26 women with endometriosis and 25 women without and got them to fill out questionnaires as well as measuring the girth of their abdomen throughout the menstrual cycle. According to this study having endometriosis meant that you were much more likely to experience abdominal bloating, 96% of women with endo reported abdominal bloating compared to 64% of controls, and your abdominal bloating was likely to be much more severe and can be accompanied by hand swelling and cycles of diarrhoea and constipation.
That study came just a few months after one I wrote about in September, which also concluded that bloating was the most common gastrointestinal symptom of endometriosis. However, it transpired that gastrointestinal symptoms were not related to involvement of endometriosis with the bowel which raises more questions than it answers. How can it be that women with endometriosis present with so many gastrointestinal symptoms, but endometriosis isn’t necessarily present on the bowel? One answer I can think of is that the female reproductive organs and the bowel exist in very close proximity to one another. Inflammatory factors produced by diseased tissue on the ovaries or uterus could therefore come into contact with the bowel causing inflammation of the bowel, resulting in the multitude of unpleasant symptoms many women associate with endometriosis. That’s my guess anyway, if you happen to know for sure, don’t keep it to yourself!
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