For many people with endometriosis, depression and bowel problems are nothing new. But a study has now found a genetic link

Mention depression and bowel problems, and many women with endometriosis will start nodding in fury.

But it was difficult to prove a connection between them. In endometriosis, tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body causing pain, often in the pelvis.

Maybe the intestinal issues were related to the pain people felt in the pelvis and lower abdomen? And maybe the chronic pain of endometriosis, which is noticeably underdiagnosed and difficult to treat, was the root cause of the depression?

Genes validate link between conditions

Previous studies have shown that women with endometriosis are twice as likely as the general population to experience depression.

Likewise, women with depression are twice as likely as the general population to have endometriosis.

So Dale Nyholt, a geneticist at the Queensland University of Technology, and his colleagues sifted through large genetic databases for common genetic risk factors for depression and endometriosis – and found some. various.

Additionally, genes associated with both were linked to genes linked to conditions involving the gastric lining, such as gastritis, peptic ulcer and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Professor Nyholt says this suggests it’s not just an accident when these conditions appear in the same person, and while studies like this can’t tell you much, they focus on hereditary factors rather than the factors. environmental factors that could be responsible.

“So by doing this type of analysis… we are really confirming and validating that there is something that is biologically shared among individuals who suffer from these traits.”

What does this mean for women with endometriosis?

Endometriosis can be found in various parts of a woman’s reproductive organs.(Supplied: Jean Hailes for Women’s Health)

According to Endometriosis Australia, people with endometriosis spend an average of six and a half years before they are diagnosed.

Sophie Volker suffered from depression as well as endometriosis and bowel problems. Like many women, it took a long time for her to be diagnosed, and her doctors did not immediately make the connection between the three conditions.

“I had had a very painful period and bowel problems forever. I just thought it was a pretty normal part of my life,” she says.

“So I think the confusion of not having answers, not having a diagnosis, and being in pain all the time probably contributed a little to my depression.”

And Kristie Perren, who suffers from bowel problems and endometriosis so severe she had a hysterectomy on the day her daughter was born, has struggled to get consistent treatment even after being diagnosed.

“I was told ‘you have to go see an intestinal doctor. We think you have IBS.’ So I did a colonoscopy, I went through it all and this doctor said, ‘You don’t. the SCI, you had endo ‘. “

Carolyn Cavanough had a hysterectomy decades ago with the ultimate goal of alleviating the crippling pain she experienced with endometriosis.

“I always blame the bowel problems on the body reacting to the pain.”

Hope for better treatment

This new genetic study doesn’t solve endometriosis – or bowel problems or depression – but it’s another piece of the puzzle.

The researchers say the genes and pathways they identified are potential targets for the drugs.

For example, the findings also have implications for existing medications that people might use to treat their endometriosis pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen are commonly used for pelvic pain, but can make some bowel conditions worse.

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Listen to the Health Check: Is There a Genetic Link Between Endometriosis and Depression?
Listen to the Health Check: Is There a Genetic Link Between Endometriosis and Depression?

Professor Nyholt says the link between the gut and the other two conditions indicates that dietary interventions could help with more than just stomach issues.

“There have actually been recent observational studies that suggest that you may improve the outcome of endometriosis and gastrointestinal symptoms by following certain dietary considerations,” he says.

“In one example, they administered a low-nickel diet for three months and found significant improvements in endometriosis and gastrointestinal symptoms, and a similar finding was reported for a low-FODMAP diet.

“This indicates that perhaps, particularly in a subset of women who have reported or are exhibiting some of these gastrointestinal symptoms and endometriosis, careful consideration of their diet may alleviate their symptoms.”

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