Are You Suffering From Endometriosis?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that endometriosis affects about 11% of American women between the ages of 15 and 44. Some women experience very mild symptoms, so mild that you may not realize you have endometriosis.
For many women, however, endometriosis causes significant, sometimes debilitating pain that is often misunderstood and mistakenly blamed on uncomfortable, but otherwise ordinary menstrual cramps.
Endometriosis is linked to your menstrual cycle, but not in the way you might think. And though it isn’t typically life-threatening, endometriosis can interfere with your ability to become pregnant, even if you don’t have significant symptoms.
The dedicated healthcare professionals at The Association for Women's Health Care are experts at diagnosing and treating endometriosis. They’re happy to answer a few questions about this perplexing disorder and what can be done to help control the symptoms.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus (endometrium) also grows outside of the womb.
The endometrium is the tissue that fills with blood and nutrients during the beginning of your cycle and creates a healthy environment for a fertilized egg to implant. If you don’t become pregnant, this lining sheds during your period.
If you have endometriosis, the displaced tissue that may be attached to the outer uterine wall, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, and other pelvic organs goes through the same cycle as the uterine lining. Triggered by hormones (estrogen and progesterone) released during the first days of your menstrual cycle, the tissue swells as it fills with blood and then empties if you don’t become pregnant.
Unfortunately, rather than flowing out through your cervix and vagina, displaced endometrial tissue sheds its unused contents into the pelvic cavity. This causes irritation, inflammation, and pain. Over time, you may also develop scar tissue or adhesions that can significantly worsen your discomfort.
Endometriosis may also interfere with fertility by causing obstruction of your Fallopian tubes that prevents a mature egg from uniting with sperm or otherwise damage the sperm or egg. Because endometriosis can worsen with age, we sometimes recommend our patients not delay pregnancy for too long if they’re interested in having children.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Pain is certainly the most common symptom reported with endometriosis, including severe menstrual cramps that seem to worsen over time.
But you may also note:
- Chronic or long-term lower back or pelvic pain
- Pain with sex or after sex that women describe as a deep pain rather than discomfort at the entrance to the vagina when penetration begins
- Pain with bowel movements or urination during your menstrual periods
Other symptoms that may be related to endometriosis include:
- Heavy bleeding during your periods or spotting between periods
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Stomach issues that may include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or nausea during your period
Because some of the symptoms are similar to those experienced with ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, and even irritable bowel syndrome, it’s sometimes difficult to accurately diagnose endometriosis.
Also, the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t always trustworthy indicators of the severity of endometriosis. Although women with relatively mild cases of endometriosis often report significant symptoms, those with moderate to severe endometriosis may have few symptoms other than infertility issues.
What is the treatment for endometriosis?
Symptoms associated with endometriosis naturally stop during pregnancy and end with menopause. Our treatment recommendations often depend on your age, whether you desire to have children, and the severity of your symptoms.
If you aren’t interested in becoming pregnant, we may recommend:
- Birth control pills or patches to reduce the buildup of endometrial tissue each month and decrease pain
- Hormonal therapy to introduce artificial menopause by reducing estrogen levels and preventing menstruation
- An intrauterine device (IUD), contraceptive implant, or contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera) to stop your periods and the growth of displaced endometrial tissue
If you’re trying to become pregnant or having severe pain, we may suggest conservative surgery to remove the abnormally positioned endometrial tissue, while preserving your uterus, ovaries, and other reproductive organs. It’s important to note, however, that the displaced endometrial tissue will likely regrow over time.
For infertility issues, we may suggest assisted reproductive treatments to help you become pregnant, such as in vitro fertilization.
We understand the nuances and frustrations of endometriosis at The Association for Women's Health Care and have extensive experience in diagnosing and successfully treating this often painful and debilitating condition. If you have further questions about endometriosis, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment.