Alexa Chung has endometriosis – the womb tissue condition that affects 1 in 10 women in the UK – and she wants you to know about it.
The 37-year-old tells : “It is something we should be talking about and I’m so happy to be in a position where I might affect change, or at least raise awareness. But even saying that, it just feels so personal.”
According to the World Endometriosis Research Foundation, it takes an average of eight years for a woman to be diagnosed with endometriosis.
“I was diagnosed with a fairly advanced stage but my symptoms aren’t as horrific as they can be for some people. It is a painful disease. It can be excruciating,” the fashion personality-come-designer continues.
According to the NHS, endometriosis is a long-term condition “where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes”.
Watch: How to relieve period pain
The main symptoms of endometriosis are:
pain in your lower tummy or back (pelvic pain) – usually worse during your period
period pain that stops you doing your normal activities
pain during or after sex
pain when peeing or pooing during your period
feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee during your period
difficulty getting pregnant
Heavy periods can also be a symptom of the condition, and Chung described it as “a gnawing, dull pain that just wouldn’t go away.”
The pain continued to get worse until she wasn’t able to stand for long periods of time. On getting diagnosed, Chung says: “I was relieved to get a diagnosis because my instinct was telling me that I had ovarian cancer. Never one to be dramatic, or anything! When I found out that it wasn’t that, I was actually relieved.”
It took a long time for Chung to be diagnosed. “I might have a really intense period, or years ago I went to the doctor to scan my kidneys because I thought there was something wrong with them. Endometriosis is nigh on impossible to diagnose without performing surgery, so you might not know you’ve got it. Which is why I want to talk about it. If other people are experiencing pain and read this, they might feel encouraged to go to the doctor.”
Chung was eventually diagnosed in 2019. A year later she took to Instagram and wrote: “The pain can affect your mental health, ability to work, relationships, your fertility, the list goes on. The only way to officially diagnose that you have it is by performing a laparoscopy. A year ago I put on these snazzy socks in preparation for my laparoscopic surgery.
“Thank you to the doctors who spotted the problem and acted on it. I understand I had the privilege of being believed and listened to.”
The designer said she wanted to speak publicly about her diagnosis as so “few people in the public eye have done so”.
Chung adds: “The reason I knew about it was because I read Lena Dunham’s account of her journey. But there’s not that many people that talk about it, considering it’s one in 10 women.”
For women who do have endometriosis the main treatments include painkillers, hormone treatment, surgery to cut away patches of endometriosis tissue and, for very serious cases, some women choose to have a hysterectomy.
While more research needs to be done into the condition, the NHS says that potential causes could be genetics, retrograde menstruation, immune system issues and endometrium cells spreading through the body – but none of these fully explain how or why endometriosis occurs.
For more information on endometriosis, visit nhs.uk/endometriosis