March is Endometriosis Awareness Month
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that forms the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterine cavity. The lining of your uterus is called the endometrium.
Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium grows on your ovaries, bowel, and tissues lining your pelvis. It’s unusual for endometrial tissue to spread beyond your pelvic region, but it’s not impossible. Endometrial tissue growing outside of your uterus is known as an endometrial implant.
The hormonal changes of your menstrual cycle affect the misplaced endometrial tissue, causing the area to become inflamed and painful. This means the tissue will grow, thicken, and break down. Over time, the tissue that has broken down has nowhere to go and becomes trapped in your pelvis.
This tissue trapped in your pelvis can cause:
adhesions, in which tissue binds your pelvic organs together
severe pain during your periods
Endometriosis is a common gynecological condition, affecting up to 10 percent of women. You’re not alone if you have this disorder.
Different factors determine the stage of the disorder. These factors can include the location, number, size, and depth of endometrial implants.
Stage 1: Minimal
In minimal endometriosis, there are small lesions or wounds and shallow endometrial implants on your ovary. There may also be inflammation in or around your pelvic cavity.
Stage 2: Mild
Mild endometriosis involves light lesions and shallow implants on an ovary and the pelvic lining.
Stage 3: Moderate
Moderate endometriosis involves deep implants on your ovary and pelvic lining. There can also be more lesions.
Stage 4: Severe
The most severe stage of endometriosis involves deep implants on your pelvic lining and ovaries. There may also be lesions on your fallopian tubes and bowels.
The symptoms of endometriosis can be similar to the symptoms of other conditions, such as ovarian cysts and pelvic inflammatory disease. Treating your pain requires an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor will perform one or more of the following tests:
Your doctor will note your symptoms and personal or family history of endometriosis. A general health assessment may also be performed to determine if there are any other signs of a long-term disorder.
During a pelvic exam, your doctor will manually feel your abdomen for cysts or scars behind the uterus.
Your doctor may use a transvaginal ultrasound or an abdominal ultrasound. In a transvaginal ultrasound, a transducer is inserted into your vagina.
Both types of ultrasound provide images of your reproductive organs. They can help your doctor identify cysts associated with endometriosis, but they aren’t effective in ruling out the disease.
The only certain method for identifying endometriosis is by viewing it directly. This is done by a minor surgical procedure known as a laparoscopy. Once diagnosed, the tissue can be removed in the same procedure.
Having issues with fertility is a serious complication of endometriosis. Women with milder forms may be able to conceive and carry a baby to term.
According to the Mayo Clinic, about one-third to one-half of women with endometriosis have trouble getting pregnant.
Medications don’t improve fertility. Some women have been able to conceive after having endometrial tissue surgically removed. If this doesn’t work in your case, you may want to consider fertility treatments or in vitro fertilization to help improve your chances of having a baby.
You might want to consider having children sooner rather than later if you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis and you want children. Your symptoms may worsen over time, which can make it difficult to conceive on your own. You’ll need to be assessed by your doctor before and during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor to understand your options.
Even if fertility isn’t a concern, managing chronic pain can be difficult. Depression, anxiety, and other mental issues aren’t uncommon. Talk to your doctor about ways to deal with these side effects. Joining a support group may also help.
About 2 to 10 percent of childbearing women have endometriosis. It usually develops years after the start of your menstrual cycle. This condition can be painful, but understanding the risk factors can help you determine whether you’re susceptible to this condition and when you should talk to your doctor.
Women of all ages are at risk for endometriosis. It usually affects women between the ages of 25 and 40, but symptoms can begin at puberty.
Talk to your doctor if you have a family member who has endometriosis. You may have a higher risk of developing the disease.
Pregnancy seems to protect women against endometriosis progressing. Women who haven’t had children run a greater risk of developing the disorder. However, endometriosis can still occur in women who’ve had children. This supports the understanding that hormones influence the development and progress of the condition.
If you have endometriosis, you’ll be encouraged to have babies earlier, rather than later in life.
Pregnancy doesn’t cure endometriosis, but there may be fewer symptoms afterward.
Talk to your doctor if you have problems regarding your period. These issues can include shorter cycles, heavier and longer periods, or menstruation that starts at a young age. These factors may place you at higher risk.
Endometriosis is a chronic condition with no cure. We don’t understand what causes it yet.
But this doesn’t mean the condition has to impact your daily life. Effective treatments are available to manage pain and fertility issues, such as medications, hormone therapy, and surgery. The symptoms of endometriosis usually improve after menopause.