An Irish woman says she spent 26 years going from doctor to doctor before eventually getting an endometriosis diagnosis.
Endometriosis is a common condition that affects approximately one in ten women in Ireland.
The condition sees tissue - similar to the tissue that lines a woman’s womb - growing outside the womb, typically around the pelvis - impacting ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and bowels.
Women’s experiences with the condition can vary, but a typical symptom is pelvic pain which gets worse during their period.
Other symptoms can include pain during sexual intercourse or pain when passing a bowel motion.
However, many women have no symptoms at all - and many only start discovering the issue if they’re having difficulty getting pregnant.
Vanessa Waldron is living with endometriosis but wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 38.
She told The Pat Kenny Show: “I would have started experiencing symptoms as soon as I started getting my period at 13. I spent the next 26 years going from doctor to doctor, going through all the different clinics.
“I’d never really heard of endometriosis until I was maybe in my mid-30s, through a friend of mine who mentioned it to me. When I went to my own GP and spoke to her about it, she made another referral to me to the local gynaecologist.
“It took until I was 38 to finally get a laparoscopy. I kind of had to fight to get it… a laparoscopy is [often] the only definitive way of diagnosing someone with endometriosis.”
Vanessa is now nearly 46, and eight years on from her diagnosis hasn’t received any treatment.
She suffers from chronic pain and fatigue, as well as frequent bleeding issues.
She observed: “That’s the way it’s been pretty much since I was 13 - and those are the symptoms I would have presented with to every doctor.”
'I'm lucky... many women aren't'
In the early years, Vanessa was told some women just have painful periods.
However, she began to be less happy with that explanation as time went on.
She went through a range of different tests and scans, and more often than not was told she possibly had an ovarian cyst that had burst.
She was put on different types of contraception for treatment, as that can be helpful for some women; however, It never really worked for Vanessa.
Some women who have endometriosis face the heartbreaking possibility of not being able to have children.
For Vanessa, the experience of getting pregnant was difficult - but she was luckier than some women.
She said: "I had four pregnancies. Unfortunately, three of those ended in miscarriage.
“I’m very lucky to have a fabulous seven-year-old little boy called Darragh. I’m so lucky I have him - so many women don’t get that.
"To this day, I still don’t if my miscarriages were a result of my endometriosis.... there's still very little known about it."
Despite years having passed since her diagnosis, Vanessa is still waiting for treatment - even though she attended different doctors and consultants throughout that time.
Vanessa’s current doctor - Dr Hugh D O’Connor, consultant gynaecologist at the Coombe Hospital - says the condition can have a major impact on a woman’s quality of life.
He explained there’s often a variety of approaches or a combination of treatments needed to treat the condition.
Surgically removing the disease from around the impacted organs can be the most effective.
That surgery often needs to be carried out alongside hormonal therapies - such as the contraceptive pill - to help suppress any further disease activity.
However, intervention from specialists such as physiotherapists or pain specialists can also help women suffering from the condition and its often painful or uncomfortable symptoms.
It was announced last week that a new dedicated endometriosis clinic is opening in Dublin.