March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Even though most of us have probably heard the term “endometriosis,” and 1 in 10 women suffer from this condition, most women are not clear on what it is, its symptoms, or dangers, thus the importance of raising awareness on it.
Let us start with the basics: What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an inflammatory condition where endometrial tissue (tissue similar to the uterus’s lining, called the endometrium) grows outside of the uterus.
Usually, the tissue grows on other reproductive organs inside the pelvis, such as ovaries, the fallopian tubes, or the abdominal cavity.
The growth of this tissue is benign (non-cancerous), but the misplaced tissue responds to hormonal changes each month. And just as the endometrium does, it builds up and breaks down, causing minor bleeding, inflammation, swelling, among other symptoms.
What are the Causes of Endometriosis?
This condition’s causes remain unknown, but some possible explanations include retrograde menstruation, which occurs when menstrual blood flows backward into the pelvis instead of out of the vagina. This blood contains endometrial cells that stick to the pelvic walls and surfaces of pelvic organs, causing endometriosis.
Genetic factors and hormones are also possible causes and surgical scar implantation (after a surgery such as a hysterectomy or c-section, endometrial cells may attach to a surgical incision).
Symptoms of Endometriosis
- Painful periods: Severe menstrual cramps that are not relieved with the use of common pain killers
- Pain during intercourse
- Excessive bleeding: Heavy menstrual periods or bleeding between periods. Also, periods that last longer than seven days
- Long term lower back and pelvic pain
- Painful bowel movements during menstrual period and other gastrointestinal problems (constipation, diarrhea, nausea)
Complications of Endometriosis
Although endometriosis is a benign condition, it can lead to complications if left untreated.
Possible complications include:
- Infertility: Endometriosis can make it difficult to become pregnant.
- Ovarian Cancer: Studies suggest that patients with endometriosis have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer
Ovarian Cysts: Which can form when the endometriosis involves the ovaries
Diagnosis and Treatment of Endometriosis
An ob-gyn makes the diagnosis of endometriosis. Your doctor will ask you a series of detailed questions, after which they will perform a pelvic exam and many times an ultrasound.
However, the only way to confirm the diagnosis is through laparoscopy, a minimally invasive procedure.
Treatment will depend on each patient’s condition and characteristics. Doctors typically prescribe pain medication to deal with the immediate symptoms. Contraceptives or hormone therapy are also indicated in some cases. More severe stages of endometriosis might require surgery.
What to do
Endometriosis can severely affect a woman’s quality of life. Many women think that it is normal to feel severe cramping and other incapacitating symptoms during the menstrual cycle. However, this is NOT the case. Many of these symptoms are not related to the period but instead result from other conditions such as endometriosis.
Consulting your ob-gyn is the first step. Being open and honest about the pain and symptoms you experience is necessary for your doctor to give you an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Endometriosis can also affect a couple’s intimacy and sexual life, so involve your partner, and let him know what you are going through. It is a lot easier to deal with health complications when your partner knows and understands what you are experiencing and can offer support and assistance.
Please contact the Women’s OB-GYN Center closest to you for additional information or to schedule a consultation. We have two locations: Pasadena, Texas and Webster, Texas, excellent physicians and first-class service.