What is endometriosis and how can the Government help?

Parliament will be debating the workplace support offered to women suffering from endometriosis on Tuesday.

The debilitating, chronic disease affects an estimated 1.5 million women in the UK.

The debate will focus on whether endometriosis is a subject people need more education on.

MPs will discuss getting a law passed to prevent any employer from discriminating against a woman in the workplace if she suffers from heavy or painful periods or needs time off for a gynecological reason.

  • What is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a long-term chronic pain condition where cells similar to the ones in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body, according to charity Endometriosis UK.

These cells behave in the same way as those in the womb, but unlike a period, have no way of leaving the body.

The condition can be debilitating, and may have a huge impact at work – such as suffering from excruciating pain or needing frequent access to a toilet due to bowel or bladder related symptoms.

Endometriosis is the name of the condition where cells similar to the ones in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body. Credit: Endometriosis UK
  • What are the symptoms?

The symptoms and its impact differ person to person, but common symptoms include chronic pelvic pain, extreme period pain, fatigue, bladder and bowel related problems, organ damage and infertility.

Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women from puberty to menopause, although the impact may be felt for life.

  • How long does diagnosis take?

Diagnosis for endometriosis can take some time, the current average waiting is between seven and 12 years.

This is because the symptoms are similar to other conditions, and women can often be misdiagnosed, with sufferers being told they have irritable bowel syndrome or 'normal women's problems'.

The only definitive way to get a formal diagnosis of endometriosis is through a laparoscopy - an operation where a camera is inserted through incisions in the abdomen to look for signs of endometriosis in the pelvis.

If endometriosis is diagnosed, the endometriosis may be treated or removed for further examination during the laparoscopy.

This leads to a much longer diagnosis time than other diseases.

Diagnosis for endometriosis takes between seven and 12 years. Credit: PA
  • What impact does endometriosis have on women in the workplace?

As endometriosis is an unseen disease, a woman's suffering can often go unnoticed.

The disease impacts a woman to the point where going to work becomes difficult and if diagnosis takes several years, then holding down a job becomes much more difficult.

More often than not, women who do receive a diagnosis will go on to have surgery to remove the endometriosis, which can impact on their personal and work lives.

As the subject is traditionally a taboo topic, particularly in a workplace environment, discussing menstrual problem can be a difficult conversation - especially without a formal diagnosis.

  • What the Government can do to support women at work

  • Endometriosis sufferers should have access to Statutory Sick Pay and the statutory support they need - they should not face discrimination due to societal taboos around menstrual conditions

  • Organisations and the Government should adopt an open culture when it comes to talking about menstrual health

  • Government should lead by example by encouraging employers to become 'Endometriosis Friendly'

  • Government needs to work with the NHS to ensure people with endometriosis have access to the right support at the right time to limit time needed off work

Endometriosis UK is a charity that supports women suffering from the chronic condition.