Obese women are more likely to have severe endometriosis, a misunderstood condition that impacts one-in-10 women, an Australian study has found
The study of 500 women with surgically confirmed endometriosis found women with a healthy body mass index were more likely to have endometriosis, however obese women were more likely to have severe forms of the painful condition that affects the reproductive organs.
The average disease severity score of obese women was two times higher than that of healthy weight women, according to the findings published in the Journal of Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain Disorders.
Lead researcher Dr Sarah Holdsworth-Carson, from the Royal Women's Hospital and University of Melbourne says the research corrects the idea that only 'skinny' women get endometriosis.
"There's been a social dogma that's arisen that has basically started to describe endometriosis as a disease of skinny women," explained Dr Holdsworth-Carson.
That's not the case and endometriosis should not be excluded among overweight or obese women presenting with symptoms, she said.
The findings also add to evidence the condition is linked to a woman's metabolism.
"It is too soon to say that lifestyle changes may reduce endometriosis severity or frequency in obese women as more research is necessary to investigate the long-term effects of obesity on women with endometriosis," Dr Holdsworth-Carson said.
"But this is further evidence to support a link with metabolism, as we already know that women with endometriosis are more likely to have high cholesterol. However, we are yet to understand if that has a long term impact on their cardiovascular health."
Despite its prevalence, there are limited treatment options for women with endometriosis, as diagnosis usually can only be made by surgery and it can take many years before women are diagnosed.
It's hoped the new understanding of the disease will help identify those women most at risk and improve diagnosis and intervention.
"This study has important clinical applications, with surgeons now aware of the need to provide more time for surgery in obese women as they are more likely to have extensive endometriosis requiring removal," Dr Holdsworth-Carson said.
In April federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a national action plan for endometriosis to identify gaps in education among medical professionals and the wider community as well as support and care for sufferers.