Johannesburg - It has been been hailed as the first breakthrough in endometriosis treatment in 20 years – and it has finally reached the country’s shores.

Visanne is the first pill created specifically to treat endometriosis, and is being launched around the country this week.

Endometriosis occurs when cells from the lining of the uterus grow in other areas of the body. This usually results in severe pelvic pain, irregular bleeding, painful intercourse and problems falling pregnant.

One in 10 women aged between 25 and 34 suffers from the chronic illness, and about 30 to 40 percent of women with endometriosis are infertile.

“It is made from a progesterone substance known as Dienogest, and the way it works is that it reduces the endometrial lesions, the size of the lesions and inflammation,” Dr Sebastian Röhrich, a physician from Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, said on Monday.

Lesions need new blood vessels to keep alive, Röhrich explained, and Visanne decreases the formation of the blood vessels around the lesions.

“However, the new pill mainly reduces oestrogen levels in the body… endometriosis is oestrogen dependent and Visanne effectively starves the lesions, which then decreases the pain women feel,” he said.

The new pill, which will be taken as chronic medication and will need a doctor’s prescription, was studied for close to 50 months. It was first introduced in Germany in 2010. It was then introduced over the rest of Europe, Asia and South America.

“The pill reduces the oestrogen levels to a point where they treat the lesions, but the body still has enough oestrogen to balance the hormone levels. There has never been a treatment for endometriosis, but doctors have been prescribing contraception to help with balancing hormones and lessening pain.

“However, contraceptives weren’t prescribed for the disease. Women have been desperate to get treatment because until now there have been unsatisfactory options available to them.”

But Röhrich is cautious not to call the new pill a “miracle drug”.

“As with every drug, there are side effects… women won’t be able to use this pill in conjunction with their normal contraceptive pill, although studies show it acts as a contraceptive but is not licensed as one. One cannot take different hormone pills at the same time.

“For the first few weeks, women might experience irregular bleeding, but it will improve over time,” he added.

But there may also be good news for women who have been struggling with infertility – Röhrich said that in some cases, women who were previously infertile had fallen pregnant after stopping taking the new pill.

“There hasn’t been a study on it, but there have been cases of women falling pregnant because it decreases inflammation and improves pain and improves the general environment in the pelvic capacity, making it conducive to conceiving,” he said.

And the even better news – the new hormone pill has no effect on body weight.

Röhrich added that the other advantages of the pill were that it had no effect on bone mineral density and no significant metabolic effects.

“It is very neutral and well tolerated… It’s quite exciting,” he said, smiling.

The pill retails at R250.80 for a month’s supply. - The Star