This is a common women-health disease that has affected many women, in particular pelvic pain and fertility problem. It is diagnosed when tissues resembling the uterine lining (i.e. endometrium) are found abnormally deposited outside the uterus, like on the pelvic inner side walls (i.e. peritoneum), fallopian tubes, ovaries etc.
It is not entirely clear why some women have this disease and others do not, but studies have suggested several plausible theories explaining this disease occurrence and process. The most popular theory centres on the phenomenon of retrograde menstrual flow which I shall explain here.
Because the fallopian tubes are normally patent and connected to the uterine cavity, every time you menstruate and notice vaginal bleeding, some blood can flow in the opposite direction, through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity. This menstrual blood which contains tissues originated from the endometrium, can sit around your pelvis for a few days and irritates the surrounding tissues like bowel, bladder and peritoneum. You probably notice changes with your bowel during menstruation, and we believe it is likely related to this phenomenon. Your immune system comprising the white blood cells (e.g. macrophages) would normally be involved in clearing this residual menstrual blood, but in some women, this clearance is not complete, leaving some endometrial tissues depositing abnormally outside the uterus, and growing again! As these endometrial tissues respond to the hormonal changes in your monthly cycle, just like the endometrium inside the uterus, they grow thicker during the cycle and break down during your menstruation, and this process can go on and on in a cyclical fashion. In the process, these abnormal endometrial tissues (i.e. endometriosis) induce localised inflammation which can present as pelvic pain (usually worse just before and during menstruation, and can be worsened with vaginal intercourse) and change in bladder / bowel habits. When the inflammation occurs on a frequent cyclical basis, it can result in considerable damage and scarring to the surrounding pelvic tissues / organs like the fallopian tubes, ovaries, ureters, bladder and bowel. Damage to the fallopian tubes or ovaries can result in serious fertility problem. Whilst pain is a common symptom featuring in endometriosis, it is not reliable in confirming the disease or gauging the severity of it.
Hence, women suffering from endometriosis can present with pelvic pain, bladder / bowel problems, and infertility, higher risk of complication following abdominal surgery due to the scar tissues (also called adhesions), and slightly increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. When pelvic pain becomes a frequent event, it can have a debilitating impact on one’s daily living, emotions, self-confidence, relationships and career.
There is currently no guarantee of a cure for this disease, and modern treatment mainly revolves around controlling the symptoms and overcoming fertility problems. Management of endometriosis generally requires specialist attention to confirm the diagnosis; to provide a wide range of evidence-based and individually tailored treatment; and to monitor the control of the disease long term, which usually resolves after menopause. In other words, the management of endometriosis is often complex and requires regular review with your specialist. Example of the management pathway includes:
Consult, physical examination, infectious screening and ultrasound scan
Laparoscopy is considered as the gold-standard diagnostic test for endometriosis. It can be done as a day procedure under general anaesthesia. Laparoscopy enables a thorough assessment of your pelvis together with clinical photography and tissue biopsy, and can provide the option to remove the disease deposits, divide the adhesions, and perform dye studies to check for patency of the fallopian tubes (as part of a fertility assessment)
Hormonal therapy, which can be in an oral formula (like the pills), injection or implant (like Implanon, Mirena, NuvaRing), is used to regulate/suppress menstruation to control symptoms and to prevent disease progression or recurrence
Pain management, from simple analgesics like ibuprofen and heat packs to strong opioid-based medications, anti-depressants and neuroleptics.
Fertility treatment: should be individualised based on the cause(s) of infertility present
For those with severe endometriosis and refractory pain: a combination of counselling, advanced surgery, stronger pain medication, and medical induction of menopause. Close consultation with your specialist is recommended.
Further reading on Endometriosis
Having a baby is one of our greatest milestones in life – it is a wonderful experience to be able to give birth to our children and raise a family. There are many books and reading materials out there on pregnancy, but our specialist will help you focus on what is important and relevant to you.
Here, we take a holistic approach to understand your needs, to demystify myths surrounding fertility, pregnancy and childbirth, and to manage problems which can affect your chances of having a healthy baby. Getting a pre-pregnancy counselling allows you to address all your concerns with our specialist who will listen to your queries, systematically assess your health and give you a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow roadmap. This process will start with a comprehensive history taking, an appropriate examination, and a set of blood tests and ultrasound scan. You will then receive counselling about your health status and ways you can do to enhance your health and your chances of having a spontaneous pregnancy. This would give you better preparation and greater confidence in going to the next stage of your journey to having a baby.
One pertinent point to note, don’t wait too long to start a family – get a fertility check-up which includes an assessment of your ovarian reserve to help you work out how much time left in your reproductive lifespan before it is too late. We can discuss the option of storing your valuable eggs or embryos if you wish to delay your childbearing plan.
Further reading on Pregnancy Planning
Having a baby is a very personal journey. Some find it easy and straight-forward, others have a tougher and more risky journey. Whichever journey you go through, it is a personal one, which makes it sweeter if you have someone supporting you through, and have a specialist guiding you all the way to experience the best moment of your life – the birth of your precious baby. You may have read or hear stories about the things that could go wrong in pregnancy and childbirth, and may be constantly worrying about labour pain and how on earth the baby can come out.
Yeap, those worries are legitimate because pregnancy and childbirth can be risky and potentially life-threatening to mother and/or baby, and these complications can happen even in young, healthy and supposedly low risk pregnant women. Looking back at history, it was not too long ago that our grandparents and the generations before them dreaded about the moment of not seeing their wife and baby survive through the childbirth process, and now these events are very uncommon, thanks to modern surveillance of pregnancy progress and childbirth in the labour ward with modern facilities like operating theatre, blood-bank, and nursery to provide emergency backup in case of any unexpected complications.
Our mission is to ensure you have a memorable pregnancy and childbirth experience; to support and guide you and your partner throughout this very personal journey; and above all, to make this process safe and comfortable.
In our clinic, you will see the same specialist throughout your pregnancy care, who is almost certain will be there delivering your baby. Your pregnancy care will include a comprehensive assessment and a personalised pregnancy care plan. With each subsequent antenatal visit, our specialist will monitor your health; the growth and well-being of your baby with an ultrasound scan to check your baby’s position, heartbeat, growth and fluid in the womb; and address any concerns along the way. You will be encouraged to attend antenatal classes organised by the private hospital you intend to have your confinement. The choice of delivery and pain management will be discussed to select the one you prefer, and although we would normally promote natural birth, how you wish to have a baby is entirely your choosing as long as it is deemed safe and reasonable. This would mean no homebirth or water-birth, and we would reason out with you why those choices pose a potential risk to you and the people looking after you.
We also put a strong focus on good pain management as we understand that labour can be painful and women can have varying degree of pain tolerance. Good pain management ensures you have control over your birthing experience, and help you avoid traumatic childbirth.
Our overriding goal is to provide you and your partner a comprehensive first-class professional care throughout your pregnancy journey til you have your baby in your arms, and to not only ensure a safe outcome but also bring you a memorable and wonderful experience. We call this, having your baby in extraordinary style.
The following is an example of a pregnancy care schedule.
Family planning is basically a strategy to influence the number of children one wishes to have and when. Although it is often not a precise method, it allows people to choose and to manage their family size and structure, and this is often a very personal choice influenced by one’s background, faith and society. There are many different methods to choose from and basically can be categorised into 5 groups: natural methods, barrier methods, contraceptive pills, non-pill alternatives, and sterilisation.
There is no right decision, just one which suits your needs and is compatible with your belief and values. It is also something that can change over time, and as such, it is important to choose methods which give you the flexibility to change your plan as your circumstances evolve.
Reaching menopause can be a life changing event for women as it indicates the end of reproductive age. The experience of going through menopause is highly individualised, from minimal symptoms to significant disruption to one’s daily living. It can be influenced by various bio-psycho-social factors like health condition, lifestyle, family history and cultural factors etc. Click Read More to find out more about menopause and its management.
What is menopause?
Menopause is a natural aging process that usually begins at 45-55 years of age, with an average age of onset in Australia at 51 years. Sometimes, it can be brought on by medical or surgical treatments. As we know, the ovary produces female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) in a cyclical fashion to stimulate breast development and to regulate menstrual cycles through the growth and subsequent shedding of the womb lining (also called the endometrium). These hormones are actually produced by the maturing eggs, and hence, as the egg reserve becomes depleted with aging, so also the ovarian hormone production which starts to become erratic and eventually the levels become negligible. This explains why women approaching menopause often experience irregular periods which can also be heavy. This duration, which is also known as perimenopause or the transitional phase, can last for several years which can be a rather disturbing time of one’s life. Medically, a woman is diagnosed to be in menopause after she has gone for one full year without periods. From then onwards, the woman is considered to be in the postmenopause.
What are the symptoms?
Typical symptoms are irregular period, hot flushes and night sweats. Other common symptoms are headaches, mood swings, sleeping difficulty, general aches and pains, and tiredness.
In the long run, there are some recognised associated changes affecting other parts of the woman’s body like dry skin and hair, dry vagina, breast changes, increased urinary frequency, weak bladder and accelerated bone calcium loss resulting in osteoporosis.
How is menopause diagnosed?
Menopause can be diagnosed when your period has stopped for a continuous 12 months and you are over the age of 45. If you are taking specialised medications to suppress your FSH production, your menopause can be medically induced until such time you come off the effect of the medications. And if you have both ovaries are removed surgically, your menopause will occur soon after.
For women reaching menopause before the age of 45, your doctor can organise a simple blood test (for FSH and oestradiol levels) to help confirm the diagnosis, and consider further tests to screen out other medical conditions like hypothyroidism, anaemia or depression which can mimic, or sometimes co-exist with, menopause.
How is menopause managed?
It is important to accept that menopause is a natural course of life and nothing to be embarrassed or worried about. Although nothing can be done to prevent menopause, unpleasant symptoms can often be reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a well-balanced diet and regular exercise; and having supportive friends and positive thinking. Some general tips you may wish to try are:
Talk to your doctor about the option of going on hormone replacement (HRT) so that you can consider the benefits and purported risks associated with HRT. Studies have demonstrated that HRT is by far the most effective therapy for controlling menopause-related problems. Most importantly, management should be individualised as each woman's experience is different and unique. A proper counselling in this regard is very worthwhile.
What to prepare before going to your appointment?
Because there are a lot of things to discuss during consultation, it is a good idea to do some preparation before you go and see your doctor.
For further reading:
Vaginal prolapse is very common in women, believed to be over 30% of the female population. Conservative treatment includes pelvic floor exercises, pessary support and vaginal oestrogen supplement (for postmenopausal women).
Surgical options can be divided into 2 main groups: 1) reconstructive, and 2) obliterative types. The former option is suitable for women who wish to retain vaginal sexual function.
For reconstructive surgery to be durable in preventing recurrent vaginal prolapse, the supportive fascia would have to be strengthened and reinforced, and this can be achieved by a combination of physiotherapy, oestrogen supplement, and native tissue repair using dissolvable sutures. Unfortunately, this approach still accounts for a recurrent rate of 10% to 70%.
To improve on our long term clinical outcome, several approaches have been introduced. Mesh was popularised in the 2000s and not long after, had been introduced worldwide as the panacea for vaginal prolapse.
In recent years, there have been quite a lot of bad publicity against the use of artificial meshes as more and more women reported unacceptable complications like dyspareunia and mesh erosion. Mesh erosion rate was reported as high as 25%.
Cochrane review recently reported a significantly higher rate of needing repeat surgery in women who had transvaginal mesh surgery compared to those who had native tissue repairs.
These complications resulted in some high profile lawsuit in the United States and review by the FDA.
Facing the threat of expensive lawsuits, many manufacturers of mesh began to withdraw their products from the market, e.g. Ethicon, AMS and Bard. AMS which became Astora in 2015 decided to settle more than 20,000 of its own cases for reportedly more than $2.4 billion.
Now, the only manufacturers left to provide transvaginal mesh in Australia is Boston Scientific and Restorelle. Studies on their mesh products are too limited to draw a conclusion on benefits & safety.
Our View & Approach:
We have always been sceptical of the use of transvaginal mesh because of the unique anatomy & function of vagina as opposed to abdominal hernias. So far, all our patients who needed vaginal prolapse repair did not end up having mesh put in.
Our approach to women needing prolapse repair is to have:
1) Good patient selection
2) Proper preoperative preparation
3) Careful anatomical repair
4) Long-term postoperative care
With patient selection, we offer vaginal reconstructive surgery in those whom we think have reasonable healthy native tissue. Those who have very weak tissue / fascia and are not sexually active are given the option for obliterative surgery, also called colpocleisis, which have a very low rate for recurrence and complications.
For those who wanted vaginal reconstructive surgery, every effort is made to strengthen their native tissue and maintain this long term. Our recurrence rate is comparatively low, with only two known cases in the last 5 years! As expected, there have been no reported failure rate for vaginal obliterative surgery in our cohort of patients.
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After hour by request only
Phone: 08 8297 4338
Mobile: 0422 014 044