Alexa Chung opens up about endometriosis: What you need to know about the condition

25 May 2023

Alexa Chung has said women are being “dismissed, misdiagnosed and left floundering” before getting tested for endometriosis.

The fashion designer, presenter and model, 39, has opened up about her experience of the condition for the first time in a piece for British Vogue, saying she received treatment for the painful condition while a cyst was being removed.

“The condition is shrouded in mystery and misinformation, and frequently mishandled by doctors. There’s no cure,” Chung wrote.

“Often sufferers end up going back for surgery after surgery. Shockingly, there are stories of some doctors suggesting that women have a baby to suppress their symptoms.”

Chung spoke to Leah Hazard, author of Womb: The Inside Story of Where We All Began, who said: “When women complain about symptoms you can have with endometriosis, quite often they’re just told to get on with it, or that’s just ‘part of being a woman’, or it’s dismissed as psychosomatic.”

That’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and seek medical advice if needed.

What is endomentriosis?

Endometriosis is a long-term condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The tissue sheds in the same way that blood does during the menstrual cycle, but has nowhere to escape to, causing inflammation, pain, and a build-up of scar tissue.

“Endometriosis is a common, sometimes debilitating but often ignored gynaecological disease affecting 1 in 10 women and those assigned female at birth from puberty to menopause, although the impact may be felt for life,” said Faye Farthing, head of communications at Endometriosis UK.

That equates to around 1.5 million in the UK with the disease, which has no known cause or cure.

“Sufferers often work while enduring debilitating symptoms including, pain, bowel and bladder issues, heavy bleeding and brain fog,” said Justyna Strzeszynska, founder and CEO of period health app Joii.

“Painful sex, fatigue and difficulty getting pregnant”, can also occur, Farthing added.

How is it diagnosed?

“With the average diagnosis time being over seven years, endometriosis takes its toll mentally and physically,” Strzeszynska said

The first step if you’re experiencing symptoms is to see a GP, who may perform an internal examination, blood test or scan and recommend treatments if they think you have endometriosis.

The only definitive way to diagnose the condition is with laparoscopy (keyhole surgery), where a surgeon passes a camera through a small cut in the stomach to look for signs of endometriosis.

Farthing said: “The reasons diagnosis takes so long include a lack of awareness, symptoms being normalised or not believed, symptoms not being recognised by healthcare practitioners, lack of priority in the NHS, and a long-standing lack of funding for research into the disease.”

What is the treatment for endometriosis?

“The severity of symptoms associated with the condition is very variable and not always correlating with the clinical stage of the disease,” said Francis Gardner, consultant gynaecologist and cancer surgeon at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.

“Initially, many patients continue to function normally with the support of medical treatment for the condition and regular pain relief.”

Doctors may suggest painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, hormonal treatments or medicines called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues.

“Unfortunately, if the condition fails to improve with medical treatment then invasive investigation and treatment are required with keyhole surgery and removal of the condition,” Gardner added.

“In cases of severe disease, more radical treatment may be required which could involve a hysterectomy, bowel resection or urological surgery such as ureteric reimplantation.”

Can lifestyle changes help?

Guidance from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology says ‘no recommendation’ can be made about physical therapies or exercise and their benefit with regards to improving quality of life and reducing pain in women with endometriosis, and that further studies are needed.

But some experts believe it may have a positive impact on some people living with the condition.

Amanda Place, personal trainer and founder of Sculptrition, said: “Exercise can help improve symptoms for some women who have endometriosis, helping them feel better, both mentally and physically.

“Yoga, pilates, or any other type of low to moderate impact workouts, such as swimming, brisk walking and cycling, are typically the best types of exercise to opt for when experiencing endometriosis-related symptoms.”

The endorphins produced by movement may help to counteract pelvic pain, but it’s important to start slowly and work out what is best for your body.

“If in doubt, you should ask your GP or another medical professional, such as a gynaecologist or endometriosis nurse specialist,” added Farthing.

Particularly if you’ve had surgery: “It’s really important to be careful with physical activity when recovering from surgery, so make sure you get advice from health professionals.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox