ABU DHABI // A lack of statistics on the number of women suffering from endometriosis is hampering the ability to treat the condition, said doctors who are pushing for a national register.
Endometriosis is caused by cells from the uterus lining growing outside the uterine cavity, causing chronic pain, cysts and, if untreated, infertility.
Based on other countries, it is thought that 7 to 10 per cent of women suffer from it, but the figures for the UAE could be different, said Dr Karim El Masry, the head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Mafraq Hospital.
“All the data we have available is from the western world. However, we see many women who suffer from endometriosis.
“To have statistics, we first require a register and that is why we are encouraging physicians to register their patients, as this will tell us how common it is, and how severe the symptoms are.”
The first indicator of endometriosis is very painful menstruation. And lack of awareness of the condition is hampering early diagnosis, said Dr El Masry.
“Women expect menstruation to be painful and are not aware about endometriosis. They often think this is natural and do not seek help from doctors.”
Patients also have difficulties in conceiving, and when they seek advice, they realise they have endometriosis.
“If you look at women who have fertility problems, there will be many cases of endometriosis. In the general population, it is under-reported because of lack of awareness,” said Dr El Masry.
“Dubai Health Authority recently said it would begin a registry of endometriosis patients,” said Dr El Masry, adding that he hoped the other emirates would follow suit.
“The success of this registry depends on physicians registering their patients,” he said.
The condition can be treated with painkillers, or surgery for cysts.
Dr Mini Ravi, a consultant obstetrician at Mafraq Hospital, said more studies were required to accurately quantify the prevalence of endometriosis in the UAE.
As there is no specific screening method for it, it is important to know the symptoms. These may include pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis during menstrual periods, infertility and irregular bleeding.
Endometriosis is often mistaken for other problems that cause pelvic pain, hence the likelihood of a delayed or missed diagnosis is increased.
Dr Ravi said patients could experience different types of pain in the lower back and abdomen during the menstrual cycle, and could also suffer nausea, migraines, or chronic fatigue, while others have no pain.
“We are educating women to seek expert care earlier, especially when their menstrual periods are affecting their quality of life,” she said.
Dr Ravi is working with the Emirates Endometriosis League to push for a registry.
Patients with the condition have also called for a better understanding and treatment.
S K, 32, an Indian, suffered painful periods for five years before endometriosis was diagnosed.
“I thought pain is normal during periods, so I did not take it seriously and did not go see a doctor. I tried to conceive when I was 29, but I could not and went to a doctor,” she said.
She returned to India for an operation to address the problem.
“The pain was so severe in my lower abdomen and back during periods that I could not step out during the first two days,” she said. “My family said it is normal and everyone suffers this pain.”
S K is now pregnant and her message to other women is: “If you are having severe pain and heavy bleeding, do get it checked.”