I'm 25 and spend three weeks every month in such intense pain I can't walk, sleep or even eat | The Sun
A WOMAN spends three weeks every month in such intense pain she often can't walk, sleep or even eat.
Leah Louise Baker, 25, is doubled over in agony with abdominal and back aches, as well as suffering from fatigue, extreme bloating, sickness, headaches and sometimes severe nosebleeds.
She can just about function at work and see friends if she takes strong painkillers, uses a hot water bottle and wears comfortable clothes.
But at its worst, Leah can barely get out of bed – with just one short walk at the weekend wiping her out for the following seven days.
She suffers from endometriosis – a long-term inflammatory condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Since getting her first symptoms aged 11 and being diagnosed six years later, it has consumed her life.
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The compliance and immigration officer, from Kent, said: "Every month I get three weeks of intense pain and one week of moderate to manageable pain, which tends to be around the week before my period.
"I will experience abdominal and back pain, chronic fatigue, extreme bloating, sickness, headaches, hip and leg pain, leg numbness and sometimes nosebleeds.
"It may look like I'm living my best life from the outside – I have graduated from university, had so many experiences and made endless memories with friends.
"But every milestone, memory and experience has been tainted by agonising pain, exhaustion and often clouded with painkillers.
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"As much as I try not to let it consume me, it very much does so because even on low-pain days, I'm preparing for the next flare-up."
Leah first noticed she was different from her friends when she started her period in year seven at school.
"I was the first one to start so I didn't have much to compare it to, but each month I would bleed heavily and be in a lot of pain," she said.
By 15, her symptoms had worsened and she would spend days on end in bed unable to move.
"I missed a lot of school," she said. "I began to think I was being over-dramatic as no one else seemed to cancel plans due to period pain."
It wasn't until Leah was battling pain for 21 days every month that doctors began to take her seriously.
But even then, they dismissed her symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a common digestive system issue.
"After so many appointments, setbacks and finding few answers, I was feeling exhausted and fed up but thankfully my mum continued to push for answers," she said.
Eventually, Leah was referred to a specialist who, through a procedure called a laparoscopy, found she had endometriosis.
She swapped her contraceptive pill for the Mirena coil and now has surgery to manage her condition, which she said has been "incredible", though it has to be repeated every few years.
A typical day for Leah
Leah said: "I wake up with pain, from my stomach, down my legs and into my back.
"I need painkillers, a heat-pack, or a combination of both to do regular day-to-day tasks such as driving to work, making dinner etc.
"This is often called spoon theory, where those who experience daily pain have less 'spoons' of energy to fulfil the tasks in their day compared to those in no pain.
"This could mean that if I am in pain and work from the office on a Friday, all normal daily tasks result in me unable to attend weekend plans."
Leah added: "Leading up to my most recent surgery, I was in debilitating pain most days and struggling to walk without codeine or co-codamol, which was limiting what I could do.
"After treatment, I experienced little to no pain and could have some normality in my life.
"To date, I've had three surgeries for endometriosis – in 2016, 2018 and 2023 – but I find that around a year and a half later, my symptoms return."
When they do, Leah struggles to work, socialise and go on dates as many people don't understand what she's going through.
She said: "I'm very lucky that the company I work for is so supportive when I need to take strong painkillers, sit at my desk with a hot water bottle every day, wear clothing that is comfortable for my pain and bloating and work from home on high-pain days.
"But so many people have no choice but to stop working due to the restrictions their pain and other symptoms create.
"Experiencing chronic pain and fatigue also makes it difficult to maintain a social life. I am often in too much pain, or too exhausted from managing pain all week, that I no longer have the capacity to meet friends.
"Often, I will finish work, drive home and sleep.
"Many people with endometriosis lose friends, jobs and relationships due to the unpredictability of their symptoms.
"The condition puts a lot of strain on couples too – from physical and mental barriers, painful intercourse and infertility.
"As endometriosis is an invisible illness, people can't understand the pain you are experiencing as they can't see the internal damage from the outside. But it impacts every single aspect of daily life."
Leah, who documents her experience on Instagram @endometri.over.it, wants to urge anyone who is experiencing period pain that doesn't go away with regular painkillers or stops you from doing day-to-day activities to seek help.
She added: "If your doctors are making you feel crazy, like it’s all in your head, it’s not.
"Ask to speak with someone else and get the answers and reassurance that you need."
What is endometriosis?
ENDOMETRIOSIS is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
One in 10 women have it, including Molly-Mae Hague and Baby Spice Emma Bunton, and if can affect people of any age.
The main symptoms include stomach and back pain, pain after sex, pain when going to the toilet during your period and feeling sick.
It can be difficult to diagnose but tummy and vagina examinations are common, as well as ultrasound and MRI scans.
A laparoscopy, where a surgeon passes a thin tube through a small cut in your tummy, is the only way to be certain you have endometriosis.
There is no cure, but treatments include painkillers, hormone medicines and contraceptives, and surgery.
Leah, a member of the Joii endometriosis panel, said: “The incorrect definition and terminology is often used when discussing endometriosis and this can be very detrimental for those in the community seeking answers and treatment.
“A simple and more modern definition can be – Endometriosis is a systemic inflammatory disease characterised by the presence of endometrial-like tissues found in extrauterine sites (Kennedy S et al. 2005, Klemmt et al. 2018, Saunders et al. 2021).
“I also need to emphasise that endometriosis is not a female-only disease, so ‘those with endometriosis’ is preferred over ‘women with endometriosis’.”
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