New endometriosis study on link to brain

University of Otago PhD student Ashlee Berryman assists volunteer Shadrina Assegaf who is wearing...
University of Otago PhD student Ashlee Berryman assists volunteer Shadrina Assegaf who is wearing a head cap that records brain activity. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
A new study is aimed at understanding how a chronic and often painful condition affecting women might impact brain activity.

Endometriosis is a gynaecological condition where cells similar to the lining inside the uterus begin to grow outside the uterus.

University of Otago PhD student Ashlee Berryman said the condition affected at least 10% of women of reproductive age in New Zealand, or about 120,000.

"But in reality, it is thought to be a lot higher than that, because those numbers can only come from a surgery called laparoscopy — a keyhole surgery in the abdomen or pelvic region, to be able to definitively diagnose."

There was an eight-year delay or waitlist to have that surgery, so there would be many women who had received a clinical diagnosis from a general practitioner, but did not have a definitive diagnosis, she said.

Symptoms included infertility, pelvic pain beyond typical menstrual cramps, painful sex, urination or bowel movements, cognitive fatigue and general discomfort.

It was also associated with depression and anxiety.

These symptoms could persist even outside the menstrual cycle.

"Some people are just in persistent pain, and so they may always be on some form of analgesic or opioid medication, which obviously is not great long term.

"There is a huge focus in the literature at the moment on improving diagnostic methods to be able to treat it sooner."

While there had been research on how women dealt with these symptoms in day to day life, there were few studies that looked at cognitive function, Miss Berryman said.

Her research project uses a portable wireless EEG device attached to a head cap to record brain activity of participants while they complete cognitive tasks.

A second device also attached to the head cap used near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor blood cell oxygenation.

"If she is having to work harder, there is going to be more blood pumping through the area."

The aim was to record brain activity from women who had been diagnosed with any stage or classification of endometriosis, as well as recording the brain activity of a control group with no history of chronic pain.

"Therefore, we can actually look at their neural activity and compare it to the control group."

The aim was to uncover if there were changes in brain activity between the groups, which might help inform potential treatments to help women with endometriosis.

Miss Berryman was seeking women with endometriosis to help reach the desired number of participants.

It was open to anyone over the age of 18, and all information would be anonymised and stored securely.

Women interested in participating can email or phone 479-4077.