March is the 29th annual Endometriosis Awareness month, bringing attention to a condition which affects 1.5 million people in the UK and which has no cure.
Endometriosis is a condition where cells similar to the ones that grow on the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body, often causing chronic pain to those who have been diagnosed.
In the UK, around 1.5 million people are currently living with endometriosis. This works out at around 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth. There is currently no cure for the condition.
Former LMJU student 23-year-old Sacha Bailey was diagnosed with endometriosis when she was 19.
Since then, Sacha has had multiple operations to help ease the pain brought on by endometriosis and has had to come to terms with the life-long condition.
She said: “My symptoms started at the age of 10 when I first got my periods. I’d go to the GP but was told this was all part of womanhood and was sent away with ibuprofen which really didn’t help.
“Each year my periods got worse; they’d knock me sick for a week. But every GP I spoke to just said I had to deal with it.”
The average age of endometriosis diagnoses in the UK is between the ages of 25 and 35, however the condition can affect anybody with a menstrual cycle.
This means that often younger people with the condition are dismissed and told that they are simply having bad period pains.
Sacha said: “It took me nine years to be diagnosed which isn’t a dent on what some endo sufferers experience.
“It was only when I was 19 that I went to a lovely female nurse in Liverpool with a pain journal that the word endometriosis was mentioned.
“In those nine years I had done all of my research and I thought it could be endo but everyone I spoke to about this made me feel like I was a hypochondriac and I was just not dealing with my periods.”
Mental health conditions are common amongst endometriosis sufferers, with previous studies finding that those with the condition are twice as likely to suffer from depression than the general population.
Sacha reveals: “Endo affects all aspects of your life. The pain is encompassing, it controls how you live your life. You make plans to see your friends but always have to cancel last minute because you’re in agony.
“This affects your mental well-being because you feel alone and like a bad friend at the same time.
“It affects your relationship with your partner because you feel like a burden, but it’s also hard for them seeing their loved one in pain every day and not knowing what to do about it. It affects you financially because you have to take a lot of time off work.”
Despite being a lifelong condition, endometriosis is not currently classed as a disability in the UK. This means that those living with the condition are expected to work and contribute to society despite often being in chronic pain.
Sacha said: “Many workplaces still don’t do enough for endo sufferers. They treat absences as a point for concern and don’t put proper adjustments in place.
“There’s very little financial aid for endo sufferers. If you’re lucky, you may be approved for personal independence payment (PIP). So, this is very detrimental for those sufferers who have to take time off work and ultimately struggle to pay their bills.”
Sacha urges anybody who thinks they may have endometriosis symptoms to contact their GP, regardless of their age or the severity of the symptoms.
“Understand everything you can about the disease! Research everything. Anyone who thinks they may have endo knows their body the best. If you’re in so much pain that you’re struggling with day-to-day life, it is not normal. Periods should not be that painful that you can’t get out of bed.
“Be armed with information before you see your doctor, go to support pages on social media and write everything down by making a diary of your symptoms. Do not leave until they refer you to an endo specialist.
“Get as much support as you can, speak to other sufferers of the disease. It’s not your fault and you’re not alone!”
The charity, Understanding Endometriosis UK, is accepting donations to provide support for sufferers and a community for those affected by the condition.