By Lauren Stubbs, a medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

Recently we celebrated International Women’s Day to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

The day is often used to shine a spotlight on gender biases and to discuss issues that disproportionately affect women in today’s society. One particular issue that deserves to be at the forefront of discussion is the gender bias in healthcare.

Often dubbed the ‘gender health gap’, still today women are less likely to have their pain diagnosed and treated than men and are often taken less seriously. Damaging taboos and stigmas in women’s health often restricts discussion on health conditions leading to widespread misunderstanding, mistreatment and misdiagnosis. One significant example being endometriosis.

What is endometriosis?

According to the NHS, endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. 

Symptoms can often be debilitating and include pelvic pain, heavy periods and severe period pain, often known as dysmenorrhea. It's often diagnosed with a laparoscopy and there's currently no cure, but treatment can be provided to manage symptoms.

Despite one in 10 women suffering from endometriosis, many are unaware of the disease’s existence and often devastating impacts on fertility, leading many women to go undiagnosed for years. Studies show that from onset of symptoms, women wait eight years on average for a formal diagnosis of endometriosis in the UK, leading to the condition often being labelled as the ‘missed disease’.

The importance of early diagnosis

According to the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines, when a woman presents with symptoms of endometriosis, they should be consulted by a specialist gynaecologist, a clinical examination and imaging should be performed and treatment should be discussed, including medical and surgical options.

The “gold-standard” investigation for endometriosis is a laparoscopy. During a laparoscopy, a small telescope is inserted into the abdomen to inspect the internal tissue and if diagnosed, removal of any endometriosis scarring or lesions can be performed at the same time.

Early diagnosis of endometriosis, through a laparoscopy, can be crucial to minimise the long-term effects of the condition. As medical negligence specialists, we often sadly see delays in women being diagnosed with endometriosis which can have a significant impact on pain and suffering, fertility issues and in some cases, progression of the disease.

Endometriosis Awareness Month

Too often, period and pelvic pain is normalised and women are often discouraged from seeking further investigation and potential treatment. This, combined with a lack of education and public awareness of the early signs of the condition, is a key reason why Endometriosis can go undetected for many years.

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, which strives to empower women to seek out help from medical professionals and raise awareness of the impact endometriosis can have on women’s lives. 

Endometriosis can have a significant effect on a woman’s fertility, but with timely intervention, women can be given the chance to consider their options and discuss treatment before the condition progresses.

Available Support

A diagnosis of Endometriosis can be daunting for women and their families, particularly if misdiagnosed or diagnosed at a late stage. Information and advice about the condition, symptoms and treatment can be found via Endometriosis UK.

More information on how you can get involved with Endometriosis Awareness Month can be found on Endometriosis UK's Action Month web page.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people following care issues at our dedicated medical negligence section.