The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has released guidelines aimed to raise awareness amongst healthcare professionals about delayed diagnosis being a significant problem for women who have endometriosis.
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The new guidelines are hoped to improve quality of life for women who have the condition, by reducing the time it takes for them to receive a confirmed diagnosis and treatment.
Women currently wait an average of 7.5 years between initially consulting a doctor and receiving a diagnosis, meaning many suffer prolonged pain while the condition progresses to a stage that is more difficult to treat.
“Delayed diagnosis is a significant problem for many women with endometriosis leading them to years of unnecessary distress and suffering,” says Mark Baker, Director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE.
Endometriosis is a chronic condition, where tissue that is usually present in the womb grows in other parts of the body such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder or bowel. When a woman with the condition has her period, the womb tissue in these other bits of the body also bleeds. Some women may find blood in their urine or even cough up blood if the misplaced tissue is present in the lungs.
If untreated, the bleeding can eventually lead to scarring and the formation of adhesions that can cause organs to stick together and the associated complications. Endometriosis affects around one in ten women in the UK who are of reproductive age.
The delay in diagnosis is partly due to doctors lacking knowledge and experience of the condition. Good quality, evidence-based guidelines have also been lacking, which has led to huge variation in the care women receive.
The new guidelines provide clear advice about how suspected cases of endometriosis should be dealt with. The guidance is hoped to reduce the delays in diagnosis and treatment by flagging up symptoms to GPs, which include painful periods, pelvic pain and subfertility.
Once endometriosis is diagnosed, doctors can provide women with effective treatment that will relieve symptoms.
“This guideline will help healthcare professionals detect endometriosis early, to close the symptom to diagnosis gap and to ensure more timely treatment,” advises Baker.