First national report shows 1 in 9 Australian women aged 40–44 have endometriosis

Almost 7% of women aged 25–29 and 11% of women aged 40–44 have endometriosis, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, Endometriosis in Australia: prevalence and hospitalisations, provides new insights into the painful and historically under-recognised condition which can affect fertility and lead to reduced participation in work and school.

‘Endometriosis is a chronic condition which occurs when tissue similar to that normally found lining the uterus occurs in other parts of the body,’ said AIHW spokesperson Ms Claire Sparke. 

‘The tissue responds to hormones released by the ovaries, which can lead to bleeding, inflammation and scarring,’

‘Women may experience pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, bleeding between periods, lethargy and reduced fertility, among other symptoms.’

Today’s report includes the most recent estimates of endometriosis prevalence in Australia, which are based on data from a large, nationally representative survey.

Researchers at the University of Queensland used data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, along with health service data, to estimate the prevalence of endometriosis in 2 groups of women—those born in 1973–78 (with data available up until age 40–44) and those born in 1989–95 (data available up until age 25–29).

Around 1 in 15 (6.6%) women born in 1989–95 were diagnosed with endometriosis by age 25–29—a figure that is 1.7 times as high as that for women born in 1973–78 at the same age (4.0%).

This increase may reflect increased awareness of endometriosis among the general public and health professionals, leading to increased diagnosis and/or reporting of diagnosis among women born more recently.

Diagnosis and management of endometriosis is complex. There is an average of 7 years between onset of symptoms and diagnosis and no known cure.

In 2016–17, there were around 34,000 endometriosis-related hospitalisations, 95% of which involved at least 1 procedure.

‘The most common procedures included diagnostic hysteroscopy (to examine inside the uterus) and dilation and curettage of the uterus (where the lining of the uterus is scraped away),’ Ms Sparke said.

Endometriosis-related hospitalisations were more likely to be partly or fully funded by private health insurance than all hospitalisations for females (57% compared with 43%), and around twice as likely to be self-funded as all hospitalisations for females (7.9% compared with 3.6%).

‘Data on hospitalisations in this report are likely to reflect the more severe cases, and does not account for all incidences of endometriosis. Future information is needed on primary care, specialist care, pharmaceutical treatment, and emergency department care,’ said Ms Sparke. 

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