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A young woman who suffers from endometriosis says she is often mistaken for being pregnant, due to severe bloating.
Abbie Eckert, 24, from Gateshead, was diagnosed with the condition - in which tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other areas of the body, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes - back in 2014.
Symptoms include: migraines, bladder retention, chronic fatigue, heavy periods and severe constipation. But Abbie says her bloating is becoming so severe, it's beginning to have an affect on her mental health and body confidence.
"It really took a toll on my mental health when I would get stopped on the bus by people asking when I was expecting," she said.
"The bloating is constant, it doesn't ever go away. I've got a pregnant looking stomach and I'd compare myself to other girls that I was working with [before the diagnosis].
"It's affected my confidence so much."
Abbie suffers from stage four endometriosis, which is the most severe. It also affects her fertility and, prior to her diagnosis in November 2014, she sadly suffered a miscarriage.
"Fertility is something that is my biggest concern, I lost a baby and since then I've always been so scared if I will ever have that chance again.
"Fertility lives in my head every day wondering whether or not I'll be able to have children.
"I fantasise about becoming a mother and having being told that my fertility is at risk was very difficult to hear, no one wants to hear that their dream of having children one day may or may not come true."
Endometriosis affects one in 10 women in the UK and on average, takes eight years to be diagnosed. Due to severe pain, Abbie has been hospitalised twice.
She said: "I was at work and I dropped to the floor so my colleague called an ambulance.
"I was rolling around on the floor screaming in agony. I'd never felt anything like it before. Doctors had said it was just a bad period, but I knew it was nothing of the sort.
"Bad periods are bad, but this was astronomical but oddly enough the pain seemed to die down after a couple of hours then it would go completely as if nothing had happened.
"But every flare up leads my body feeling exhausted physically and mentally."
Abbie describes the pain as "if my lower abdomen or stomach was wrapped in barbed wire that was getting tighter and tighter."
"It can be managed by going to the gym and cutting meat out of your diet but it's affected my mental health so much that finding motivation to go to the gym is limited," she continued.
"I used to be a dancer but I would constantly put myself down. I thought people were laughing at me and I generally felt disgusting.
"I could never wear my clothes with confidence and at the start of my relationship I couldn't get dressed in front of my partner."
Abbie explained that with help from her partner, her confidence has started to improve.
"Only this year I've accepted that I'm not fat but I have a chronic condition and with the help from my partner that I'm beautiful inside and out," she said.
"He's really helped with building my confidence and helped me 'normalise' it when really it isn't normal to look like your six months pregnant.
"I'm just taking each day as it comes and I will eventually start doing things to improve my bloating like going to the gym and having a clean diet but I think having my diagnosis this year has really took a big chunk of my life and I'm just trying to accept that I have what I have and learn to accept every part of it mentally."
Abbie was also advised by doctors that the only way to tackle the condition was to try for a baby or start taking contraception, which she was unable to do due to medical reasons.
She said: "Me and my partner aren't looking to start a family anytime soon so there wasn't any other option.
"The doctor had told me that he didn't need to continue seeing me and that I was discharged from the women's clinic.
"I was just advised to contact my doctor for any pain relief and if I have any more concerns. I was absolutely devastated. If endometriosis looked as physical on the skin as what it does inside, you would be black and blue with bruises."
Abbie wants to raise awareness of the issue, explaining that it's often mistaken for "just a bad period" and urging others to listen to their bodies.
"Please go get checked out, your body will tell you if it's anything more than just a painful period," she said.
"Listen to your body and don't wait around like I did."
For help and support regarding endometriosis, please visit Endometriosis UK or call their helpline on 0808 808 2227.
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