FOR seven days every month, Atima Bhatnagar is in such agonising pain she finds it difficult even to walk.
The mum-of-two is also left unable to shower, have sex with her partner or go out of the house.
Yet this is progress for Atima, 41, who has suffered with endometriosis since she was ten.
The condition affects one in ten women in the UK and sees cells similar to those in the lining of the womb grow outside the uterus.
Until she finally had surgery to remove the cells last year, it was common for Atima to be living in agony for three weeks each month.
On average, it takes seven and a half years from the onset of symptoms to get a correct diagnosis.
But it took 500 APPOINTMENTS over 30 YEARS for doctors to finally diagnose Atima with endometriosis — and she wants to raise awareness of the condition so other women do not suffer.
She tells Fabulous Daily: “It’s a disorder that has consumed the past 30 years of my life. I could be in such unbearable pain that it could make me vomit.
“It affected every part of my life, and the pain was there for most of the month, not just while on my period.
“Going to the toilet is painful, sitting down is painful, walking is painful. I can need the loo 20 times in a day.
“I have been misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance and gastrointestinal disorder over the years.
“Scans would come back clear and I would be left thinking it was all in my head. One GP told me, ‘Some women just suffer like this’.
“I’ve had 30 years without a diagnosis. I don’t want anyone else to go through this — it’s horrendous and it’s no way to live.”
Having started her periods at ten, Atima was often sent home from school with severe stomach cramps.
Her mum, Meena, took her to the GP when she was 14, but she was told what she was experiencing was not out of the ordinary and given strong painkillers.
Atima, from Wembley, North West London, says: “The school nurse would insist it was ‘normal’ and part of growing up, but I was left embarrassed after bleeding through clothes and I dreaded my period.
“I remember one incredibly bad shopping trip to Tesco when I was 11, where I felt like I was about to die because the pain was so bad. I would sometimes vomit in public when cramps flared up.”
At 15, Atima was prescribed the Pill, which made her pain “more bearable” and controlled her extremely heavy bleeding.
By the age of 24, she told doctors she didn’t want to spend her life taking the contraceptive.
She began to experiment with coming off it, but within a month her periods were horrendous.
THE main symptoms associated with endometriosis are:
- Pain in your lower tummy or back (pelvic pain) – usually worse during your period.
- Period pain that stops you doing your normal activities.
- Pain during or after sex.
- Feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee during your period.
- Pain when peeing or pooing during your period.
- Difficulty getting pregnant.
- You may also have heavy periods. You might use lots of pads or tampons, or you may bleed through your clothes.
“They put me on strong painkillers, but in the end they told me to go back on the Pill,” she says.
“Despite many scans and investigations, I was always told there was nothing wrong.”
She met partner Mark Maryon when she was 28 and he was 20, but was terrified her condition would affect their relationship. Atima, a product director at a pharmaceutical company, would often tell Mark she could not see him “because my period was horrendous and I was in agony”.
I would sometimes vomit in public when cramps flared up.”
She says: “Before we knew it was endometriosis, my mood would be so up and down.
"Sometimes I would flip out over nothing — the bed not being made. We’d have arguments about nothing. I’m really lucky he is so supportive.”
When their relationship became serious, the couple spoke about starting to try for children.
Atima was worried that being on the Pill for so many years might have affected her fertility.
She says: “I told Mark I wasn’t sure if I could have children. So I came off the Pill, and again lived through the nightmare of painful periods that rendered me unable to live a normal life.”
Endometriosis is prevalent in 30 to 50 per cent of women with fertility problems — but Atima fell pregnant after about seven months.
She says: “We were thrilled, and I was relieved. But my pregnancy was horrendous. I had hyperemesis gravidarum, the severe morning sickness that Kate Middleton had, so I was in and out of hospital.
“I had scans every two weeks and it was awful. It’s highly likely that endometriosis is linked to hyperemesis gravidarum, but I didn’t realise at that point.”
In 2011, the couple welcomed their twin girls Aanya and Riya, now nine, via emergency C-section at 32 weeks.
As a new mum, Atima felt that her hormones were “all over the place”, and her periods came back a few months after giving birth, “more painful than ever before”.
“I was in a state of shock, dealing with the pain and learning about motherhood,” she says.
“Two weeks before my period, my mood would be all over the place, and I wouldn’t want to be intimate with Mark, as my breasts were so painful. I would even pull away if my girls wanted a cuddle.
"I had pain and bleeding between periods that was sometimes triggered by sex. They were difficult times for him too as he felt awful. I had one week a month during which I felt normal.” In 2016, Atima came off the Pill for good.
She says: “I felt it was important for the twins to see what periods were. How would they ever be able to understand them if they had never seen Mum have one?”
But her life was turned upside down — she started to experience pain when she didn’t have her period and her mood was erratic.
Atima says she could lash out at Mark, now 33, a videographer, for the simplest of things.
In 2017, her GP suggested the Pill again but Atima refused and pushed for an internal scan which came back clear. She felt her concerns were still being dismissed.
She says: “I was so confused and worried about where all this pain was coming from. Why was I so moody and why did my scans come out clear?
“I wanted to know why my day-to-day life was being affected so much if nothing was wrong. Was it all in my head?”
The following year, Atima’s GP referred her to a gynaecologist. She was told that she might have fibroids and cysts in her uterus and was sent for scans. She was also referred for a mammogram as she suffered with painful breasts.
She says: “I went for my internal scans and the scanner said it was likely I had endometriosis. Wow! I finally felt like I had a diagnosis.
“They said my menstrual age was much younger than my actual age so my oestrogen levels were higher and feeding the endometriosis.”
Just days later, Atima was dealt another blow. She says: “My mammogram results showed I had early-stage breast cancer. I sat there feeling numb.”
Atima underwent radical radiotherapy for five weeks, all while having to put treatment for her crippling pain from the endometriosis on the backburner. She says: “I was exhausted through all the breast operation and radiotherapy.”
In June 2019, she was given the all-clear but told she would need yearly scans for breast cancer for the rest of her life.
LIKE with all health conditions, endometriosis does not discriminate – plaguing celebrities too.
Model and mum-of-two Chrissy Teigen, 35, shared in February that after suffering a pregnancy loss, she was having surgery to treat the condition.
Girls star Lena Dunham revealed her decision to have a hysterectomy at the age of 31 to relieve her excruciating symptoms. She had lived with the condition for a decade and had eight operations to treat it.
In the UK, model and designer Alexa Chung shared a photo on
Instagram in a hospital corridor tagging her post #endometriosisclub.
And Spice Girl Emma Bunton was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 25, and was warned she had a 50-50 chance of becoming a mum, as a result. She went on to have two sons.
The following month, Atima saw another gynaecologist and was told she needed a keyhole operation to remove the endometriosis from her pelvic area and uterus.
In December 2019, she had surgery at the private Clementine Churchill Hospital in Harrow, North West London.
She says: “I was told by a consultant my endometriosis was stage four and ‘deep infiltrating’, so there’s no cure, and even after surgery it can grow back.
“I was also told my uterus is double the size of a normal woman’s and is retroverted (tilted abnormally) due to the condition. I was just relieved that it wasn’t all in my head.”
Atima was signed off work for 12 weeks to recover but when her periods returned three weeks later they were “worse than any contraction I had going into labour”.
She says: “It was like my uterus wanted to come out of my body.
“The recovery has been very tough. I’m not sure I am really recovered now as there’s no real cure for my condition.
"There were times after the operation that I wondered if I was dying, because the pain was so intense. I’m now considering a hysterectomy.”
Atima is now raising awareness of endometriosis on her blog nemosnails.com and on her Instagram @Allaboutatima.
She is campaigning to make sure more women are aware of the disorder, so that those who are suffering similar symptoms will be inspired to push for a diagnosis.
Atima adds: “I want people to know they are not alone and you can still succeed in life despite this condition.
“Despite living in pain every day, I will never, ever give up. I will keep pushing for answers.
“I don’t want anybody to suffer in pain, not knowing for so long. And I’ll do everything I can to prevent that.”
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