A mother from Ashford who had to resort to a hysterectomy to end a lifetime of pain is leading a call for earlier diagnosis of gynaecological conditions to reduce the pressure it can have on mental health.
Amy McHattie was just 16 when she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition which can cause irregular periods, subfertility, hair loss and weight gain.
Amy McHattie is calling for more awareness of gynaecological conditions
But the pain continued and it was not until years later that further conditions were diagnosed, having previously been blamed on either the PCOS, back ache, irritable bowel syndrome and even her imagination.
It had a significant impact on Amy's mental health and she was placed on antidepressants to help her cope.
Eventually, she was diagnosed with endometriosis – where tissue grows outside the womb and can lead to internal blood pooling – and adenomyosis, where the inner lining of the womb breaks through the muscle wall.
Now the 29-year-old is speaking out as new research shows there is a link between deteriorations in mental health and long delays in medics correctly identifying a problem.
It was carried out by BMI Healthcare, part of Circle Health Group, in partnership with the national charity Wellbeing of Women.
'My conditions meant I needed to be in bed for days at a time because of the pain or tiredness.'
Amy, a mother-of-four, said: “Women don't like to speak out because nine times out of 10 we get comments like 'oh, it's just a period', 'it’s normal', 'painkillers and a hot water bottle will make it better'.
"You start to believe that maybe you are actually imagining it and that’s such a horrible feeling.
"If it was something they could see, I believe it would be something that could be treated a lot quicker.
"I spent hours crying after getting that diagnosis because someone put a reason on why I was feeling that way. It wasn’t in my head, I wasn’t making it up and it was just automatic relief."
For endometriosis, which affects one in 10 women, the average waiting time for a diagnosis is between five and six years.
In total, 10,360 women responded to the survey from Circle Health, 1,561 of whom were from Kent.
Some 40% of women who responded from Kent said they felt embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their condition and just 39% felt they could speak openly about it with friends and family.
Around 63% have also been diagnosed with depression and 63% with anxiety alongside their gynaecological condition.
Mr Elias Kovoor, a consultant gynaecologist and laparoscopic surgeon, said: “Young women – more so than older women – often felt dismissed in the early stages of their diagnosis, despite guidelines in place to avoid delays.
“It is important not to miss the severe cases of endometriosis because of its long-term impact on health and fertility.
'I wish I had somebody speaking out like this that I could have related to and maybe pushed for things sooner.'
"With increasing awareness amongst general gynaecologists, patients are now more readily referred to specialist endometriosis centres.
"Delay in diagnosis will have a huge impact on the outcomes. There is now a well-recognised pathway for such referrals.”
Amy said the decision to have a hysterectomy, including the removal of her tubes and one ovary, was the last resort, and followed years of trying contraception to regulate her hormones and an attempt to induce a chemical menopause.
She added: "I was so lucky to still be able to have my children while living with these conditions because so many can’t but I couldn’t be the mum my children needed.
"My conditions meant I needed to be in bed for days at a time because of the pain or tiredness.
"It has impacted my career – I started studies to be a paramedic but had to stop because I couldn't concentrate.
"I wish I had somebody speaking out like this that I could have related to and maybe pushed for things sooner."