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Endometriosis: a billion-dollar Kiwi health problem

On average, it takes more than eight years to be diagnosed from the first sign of symptoms.

- One in 10 girls and women are affected by endometriosis worldwide, with symptoms usually starting in the teen years. As well as painful periods and infertility, other common symptoms include bloating, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) type symptoms, painful ovulation, unexplained bleeding, pain during or after sex, fatigue and pelvic pain.

- There are some cases where women show very few symptoms of endometriosis, and it's only discovered when they struggle with infertility. It's believed that 50 per cent of infertile women have the chronic disease.

- On average, it takes more than eight years to be diagnosed from the first sign of symptoms.

- It's a billion dollar problem in New Zealand. It costs the country $1.2billion each year in public health costs, including surgical and medical expenses. This number doesn't take into account the "hidden" costs on mental health, lost productivity at work and the burdens on individuals and their families.

- According to Southern Cross Healthcare, endometriosis is the most common private surgical healthcare claim for women.

- There is no known cure for endometriosis; the three main treatments are medical, surgical and symptom management with various therapies.

- The symptoms do not correlate with the stage of disease. You can have mild endometriosis and severe symptoms.

- Hysterectomies are not a cure for endometriosis. Some women may choose this option when other treatments have failed but further treatment will need to be considered if the symptoms return. Surgical treatment should remove (excise) the endometriosis. A hysterectomy treats adenomyosis which affects the muscle of the uterus and many women have this condition as well as endometriosis.

- There are several theories about what causes endometriosis, and a strong genetic link – if your mum, grandmother or sister had it, there is a higher risk you might as well. Keep in mind that even if they weren't diagnosed with it, it doesn't mean they didn't have it – for decades, endometriosis has been written off as "just bad periods".

- Last December, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt formally apologised to women with endometriosis, admitting that the crippling condition should have been acknowledged earlier, and announcing the creation of a National Action Plan with immediate funding dedicated to research, education and awareness.

- Early recognition of symptoms and early appropriate intervention are vital.

For more information, visit Endometriosis New Zealand at nzendo.org.nz.

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