Women’s Health Week is a nation-wide campaign of events centred on improving women's health, this week we will hear from female clinicians at Mater speaking about female health issues they are passionate about.
Dr Katie Christensen is a Laparoscopic Fellow in the Mater Mothers’ Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department. She has a special interest in endometriosis and helping women to manage and treat this condition.
“Endometriosis is very common, impacting around 1 in 10 women in Australia. Thankfully, it is being increasingly recognised as a significant women’s health issue as awareness and understanding of the condition increases. The disease is where endometrial-like tissue grows outside of the uterine cavity and can involve the ovaries, bladder, bowel, and most-commonly, the tissues lining your pelvis,” Katie said.
“This can cause women to experience sometimes-debilitating pain, especially related to their period. It can also cause pain when a patient passes urine, has a bowel motion or has sex. In some cases, it can also lead to infertility. Some patients with endometriosis develop persistent pelvic pain, leading to even greater impact on their quality of life.
“The symptoms for endometriosis are so varied that patients can take a long time to receive an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, painful periods are often dismissed or overlooked, for a variety of reasons. I see many women who thought or have been told that this was just something they should put up with.”
Katie explains that to properly diagnose endometriosis requires laparoscopic (or keyhole) surgery. Usually the endometriosis can also be removed at the time of this procedure, which can improve a patients symptoms or sometimes improve a woman’s fertility.
“Not all women will need surgery, although it remains the gold standard for diagnosis. There are some who have very minor symptoms. The hardest part about this disease is there can be a mismatch between the severity of the disease and the pain a woman is experiencing,” Katie said.
“There are some women who have very severe endometriosis but very little pain, others may have very mild endometriosis but extremely severe pain. I believe as clinicians it’s important we understand and listen when women are in pain and treat them appropriately.”
Katie also believes research into women’s health has been under funded and overlooked for many years leading to barriers when accessing appropriate care for endometriosis and other gynaecological conditions.
“This is fortunately changing today as more women are speaking out about their experience, however more research into endometriosis is needed to improve our understanding of this disease and improve our treatment options,” Katie said.
“At the Mater we treat many women with this condition and are fortunate to have a team of motivated clinicians who are passionate about ensuring we provide them high quality care.
“We also have a dedicated Persistent Pelvic Pain Clinic which is a multidisciplinary service involving gynaecologists, a pain specialist, psychologists and women’s health physiotherapists who are all important in the management of pelvic pain.”
The one thing Katie would say to women who are suffering is that they should not just ‘put up with’ pain, and that there are many options available to diagnose and treat potential causes.
“The journey with endometriosis can be incredibly frustrating and difficult sometimes. Trust your instincts and if you feel something is not right, seek help and don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion,” Katie said.
To find out more about Mater’s Gynaecological Services you can call the team on 07 3163 3000 or visit the website https://www.materonline.org.au/services/outpatient-clinics-adult/referral-guidelines/gynaecology