Endometriosis is a condition in which womb lining or endometrial tissue, which is normally only found inside the uterine cavity, occurs outside in the abdominal cavity, where it causes local inflammatory changes. It affects between 120,000 and 300,000 women in Austria – the unknown figure is high – and in many cases leads to infertility. If the condition is detected at an early stage, it can be easily treated, and fertility preserved. However, due to the non-specific nature of the symptoms, it takes an average of seven to nine years before it is diagnosed. Austria's three medical universities in Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck are therefore launching an awareness campaign about endometriosis and the infertility that can result from it.
The campaign entitled "BEI" (Bewusstsein für Endometriose und Infertilität) [Endometriosis and Infertility Awareness] starts in Vienna on 11 March 2019 with a launch event in MedUni Vienna's Van Swieten Hall (starting at 18:00 hrs.) and a campaign bus driving all over Vienna throughout the day informing the public. The other stops can be found on the newly launched website www.beiaustria.at. The bus will be in Graz on 13 March and in Innsbruck on 14 March. You can find the detailed timetable on the website: it starts at 7:45 on 11 March in front of Vienna General Hospital, the next stops being Vienna University of Technology (8:30-10:30 hrs), Vienna University (11:00-12:00 hrs) and Vienna University of Economics and Business (14:00-15:00 hrs).
"A lot of women suffer from severe period pain but do not associate it with endometriosis, so that they suffer unnecessarily for years," explains Kazem Nouri from MedUni Vienna’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and project leader. Constant pain in the lower abdomen and pain during intercourse might indicate the presence of endometriosis. "Endometriosis is a condition that often goes unrecognised or is only diagnosed after a long time but can easily be treated," says Beata Seeber, Head of the Endometriosis Center at the Medical University of Innsbruck, summing up one of the core messages of the BEI campaign. "The aim of the entire campaign is to make women aware of endometriosis, so that they can get an early diagnosis," adds fertility expert Monika Wölfler from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical University of Graz.
In most cases, one of the first diagnostic indications is obtained from an ultrasound scan. If endometrial cysts can be seen, then a laparoscopy is performed to locate the seat of the endometrial tissue and possibly remove it. This can relieve pain and restore fertility. Says René Wenzl, Head of the Endometriosis Center of the Medical University of Vienna: "One in four couples in Austria is involuntarily childless – due to endometriosis – and that simply need not be so if diagnosis is made early on." Austria is well provided in this respect: There are 15 endometriosis centres, including those at MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital and at the gynaecology departments in Graz and Innsbruck.
At the same time, the doctors from Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck want to raise awareness about the important subject of infertility. Fertility starts to decline rapidly in women after the age of 35 and, in men, after the age of 45 – lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity being additional negative risk factors. Says Nouri: "After the age of 42, a woman's chances of bearing a child are less than 5%." That also applies to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – increasing age even places limits on the potential of modern reproductive medicine.
In order to raise awareness about endometriosis and infertility, the gynaecology departments of Austria's medical universities have decided to set up the "BEI" [Endometriosis and Infertility Awareness] group. The campaign is also being supported by the Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (OEGGG), the Austrian Sterility, Fertility and Endocrinology Society (ÖGSFE), the Austrian IVF Society, the Society of Reproductive Medicine and Endocrinology (ÖGRM), the Society of Fertility and Psychology, the Austrian Endometriosis Association (EVA) and the Austrian Medical Association and, internationally, by ESHRE (European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology) and "Endomarch Worldwide" and comes under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health & Consumer Protection. The campaign's patron is Vienna City Councillor for Social Affairs, Health and Sport, Peter Hacker.