Endometriosis and Enforced Menopause
Much like menopause, endometriosis is another area of women’s health that is rarely spoken about even though it affects 176 million women worldwide. In fact, one in 10 women of reproductive age in the UK suffers from endometriosis.
After fibroids, endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK, and its prevalence in infertile women is as high as 50%. The cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no definite cure.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to that of the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis has no prejudice; it can affect women of any age. The symptoms of endometriosis can vary. Some women are severely affected, while others might not have any noticeable symptoms.
The main symptoms of endometriosis are:
pain in your lower tummy or back which usually worsen during, or at the onset, of your period
period pain so bad it stops you doing your normal activities
pain during or after sex
pain when urinating or during bowel movements during your period
feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee during your period
difficulty getting pregnant
Sufferers may also have very heavy periods, where some may have very light menstruation. For some women, endometriosis can have a big impact on their life and may sometimes lead to feelings of depression (source).
The actual cause of endometriosis is unknown, there are several theories but none fully explains why endometriosis occurs.
We spoke to the incredible Dee Hazelwood about her personal experience with endometriosis and how this led to enforced menopause.
A Personal Account of Endometriosis and Early Menopause
“When I turned 30 years old I started to have terrible pain in my bowel, especially around my period. I arranged a GP appointment and told him I thought I had IBS. Although it was a very short consultation, he agreed but little did I know that really it was just the start of my troubles.
My periods were so light I always thought I was lucky. They would only last a few days but the build up to my period was always painful. I would be doubled over in agony. I opted for natural remedies & even sought Chinese medicine to try & help. But nothing ever did. I remember once literally sitting in the passenger seat of my partner's car, my legs stretched out & me clinging on to the dashboard screaming in pain, sweat pouring from me. I often felt sick & this was always then followed up by diarrhoea.
This continued like this for some years. I became immune to it and began to think it was normal. I started going to the toilet to pee hourly as the pain got worse & I noticed my ankles would swell. One day near my period I had been swimming, found myself doubled over in pain as I got changed, but I thought it was just another period coming. But that night it didn’t go away. In the end I was rushed to hospital. I ended up with a cyst the size of a grapefruit on my ovaries & when they opened me up they found endometriosis all over me. On my kidneys, bladder & liver. They went on to save my ovaries that time, but 12 months later I started to experience the same pain. I went to see a female GP this time who had no sympathy whatsoever. She basically said it can’t have come back that quickly & I was making a fuss. I was quite shocked by this, but I just got on with it. Another 6 months passed of screaming near my period date, followed by sickness and diarrhoea before a two-day period.
One day during a meeting at work I fainted. I had never fainted in my life before and ended up in hospital again, this time with a really high white blood cell count - something was seriously wrong. A couple of hours later I had collapsed again & was rushed to theatre. I had gone into septic shock & this time when they opened me up they said the endometriosis was everywhere, and travelling up my body towards my lungs.
They actually didn’t do anymore that day. They closed me up & came to talk to me about my situation. I was advised to have my ovaries and womb removed to prevent cancer further down the line. I was also advised to take a cancer drug to try to get rid of the endometriosis as much as possible before the operation. I didn’t react very well to the drug (Zoladex) and came out in massive hives that covered my body, so I had to stop taking them. I told the surgeon on the day what I had done, and he refused to operate. Fed up of being bullied after what happened to me before, I gave him an ultimatum, let’s just say he did the operation.
I went into the menopause overnight, and at the age of 35 realised I could no longer become a mum. The reality of that didn’t hit me straight away - I think I had so many other things to deal with at that point. I could have died with the septic shock, it took a few years later for me to grieve the children I could never have.
If I had my time again, I would never have put up with so much pain for so long and I certainly wouldn’t have been fobbed of by a GP as “just making a fuss.” My advice is to listen to your body - pain is there for a reason, not just because we are women who should “cope” with periods, they shouldn’t hurt that much."
Dee Hazelwood, Absolute Hero
How Livia Francis Helped Alleviate Dee's Symptoms of Enforced Menopause
Dee came to Livia after all of this had happened, Dee was overweight as a direct result of her medical condition as it had caused her to become insulin resistant. She had been told that ‘no matter what she did, Dee would always have difficulty losing weight and being energetic’ (sic). She was really suffering – not just symptoms from the enforced menopause, but more with weight gain and the pain she was suffering through her joints. Her IBS has flared up because she wasn’t looking after her food choices and she was worried about her long term health. That was how Dee and Livia met – via a mutual friend Jo Morrison who was undergoing body transformation coaching with Livia at the time.
“When I first met Dee she had no confidence. She sat there with her arms closed. She wanted to join in but said she felt she couldn’t.”
Livia began to work with Dee using resistance training and food choices to control her weight and alleviate her symptoms.
“Over the period of time we worked together her confidence grew. Dee’s IBS is now completely gone, she has no gut issues at all. Her weight maintains at about 68kg down from 95kg, she has an understanding of how exercise and lean muscle mass can help contribute to reducing body fat and long-term weight management for women. She is now in her early fifties and she is so positive, she is a different woman. For Dee it wasn’t really about weight or looking good necessarily, it was a psychological journey about understanding her body. Dee has come from severe pain, and endometriosis to where she is now - without pain, a working gut, a fully functioning bowel, and no joint pain. She is super positive and a go-getter. Endometriosis can mean pain but you can manage it through medication but also lifestyle changes.” Livia Francis
The Link between Menopause and Endometriosis
As with Dee, women with endometriosis may be treated with lifestyle changes, medications or surgery to help control the symptoms and severity of the disease. Some women choose to have surgery involving removing both ovaries. In both situations, women can experience a sudden onset of menopause symptoms which can range in severity.
Why does inducing menopause help with the symptoms of endometriosis?
Inducing menopause causes suppression of the menstrual cycle and activity of the ovaries meaning that the symptoms of endometriosis may resolve. The methods of inducing menopause are:
Hormones by injection or nasal spray: These suppress your own hormones and stop your menstrual cycle. This means that your periods stop and you are likely to experience menopausal symptoms.
Surgery involving the removal of both ovaries. This may be with or without removal of your womb but will permanently induce menopause. The loss of libido is often felt more with a surgically induced menopause.
How Exercise Can Help Symptoms of Early or Induced Menopause
Endometriosis and early menopause can be devastating for a woman that wants to regularly train. From experience, Livia has learnt that resistance training can ease the intensity of symptoms in some cases. Regular exercise can manage symptoms by:
· Releasing endorphins and increasing dopamine levels
· Lowering oestrogen levels
· Improving blood flow
· Strengthening back and the core
Resistance training centres around technique and breath using bodyweight bands and weights. This begins with low intensity then building resistance over time. The key is gradual incremental exercise regimes that do not overstress the body. This combined with a good foundation of food choices improves “overall health” which then impacts the overall symptoms of endometriosis and early menopause.
"I was diagnosed with PCOS at 15 when I had to be rushed to A&E with a ruptured ovarian cyst. I was given hormones to control my ovulation for years and both the syndrome and the hormones made me develop insulin resistance. I was told that 'no matter what I did I'd always have difficulty losing weight and being energetic.' Thanks to my resistance training with Livia (combined with the right food choices) I have been able to improve my insulin sensitivity, avoid relapsing and lose weight." Beth
Breaking Taboos about Women’s Health
What endometriosis and menopause have in common is a lack of knowledge and understanding in our culture and society. This is a recurring theme in women’s health and something Livia Francis is fighting to combat with her Menopause Lifestyle Solution. If you suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned here, or if you recognise any of these issues within yourself, your first port of call should be the GP. Following that, get in touch with Livia to discuss your symptoms and she can discuss the options open to you that may help you get to where you want to be – pain-free, fit and healthy!
If you’ve found this blog useful you may also find this article from Endometriosis UK about breaking down taboos interesting too.
Livia and the MLS Team x