Research Nugget

Endometriosis fatigue in SA women

Endometriosis is a common chronic, gynaecological illness that affects the physical, social, and psychological quality of life of many women. Endometriosis is associated with the presence of endometrial-like tissue outside the uterus that causes inflammation, pelvic pain, and contributes to infertility. Symptoms include painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea), chronic pelvic pain (CPP), infertility, fatigue, lethargy, constipation, and abdominal bleeding.

Fatigue in women with endometriosis is often an overlooked secondary symptom, even though it negatively impacts women’s well-being and their lives. A study conducted by researchers from Stellenbosch University and funded by the NRF, explored endometriosis-related fatigue experiences among 25 South African women. Using face-to-face interviews with women recruited from a public hospital in Cape Town and through several South African endometriosis organisations, the study found that:

  • The experience of fatigue and its management were individual experiences that varied from woman to woman. The women accepted that fatigue was part of their illness and although they reported using strategies it, there was a sense that not much could be done. Therefore, they did not discuss their fatigue with their healthcare providers.
  • The women reported that they tried several strategies to manage their fatigue and that fatigue management was a trial-and-error process.
  • Coping strategies used to manage fatigue included cognitive approaches such as pushing through, planning, prioritising, and pacing, as well as physical strategies such as rest and the use of supplements, food, and energy drinks.
  • Social support was not considered a fatigue-management strategy and the women reported feeling isolated and that they were left to manage the disease on their own.

Although some of the women reported that they still searched for fatigue-management strategies, the study also found that most women gave up trying to find a management strategy to deal with the challenges or limitations of fatigue because most of the strategies they tried were ineffective, unsustainable, or costly.

Access the full paper published in the South African Journal of Psychology here.