What is Endometriosis?
As most women know, monthly periods are not much fun. The pain, bloating, and irritating mood swings make for some uncomfortable days, but they quickly come to an end. For those women who have endometriosis, the traditional symptoms are much worse and can last a long time.
The definition of endometriosis, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus.” Just like an unwanted weed in a garden, this lining turns into a huge problem.
For those who might have forgotten the specifics of high school anatomy, here’s a quick recap. The uterus lining is called the endometrium. It thickens with blood and hormones each month to prepare for a potential pregnancy. If no fertilized egg arrives, the endometrial lining and the surrounding blood is shed as menses start.
For someone with endometriosis, the endometrium may grow in places besides the uterus. It is thought that this may occur when the uterus does not shed 100% of the thickened lining as it should. Some of it remains and continues to grow and could leave the inside of the uterus and attach itself to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or even other organs.
Stages of Endometriosis
Endometriosis is categorized into four stages:
- I — Minimal — There are a few lesions outside the uterus, but no scars.
- II — Mild — There are increased lesions and implants of tissue. Some scarring is present.
- III — Moderate — Many deep lesions of tissue are present, and now excessive scar tissue creates adhesions. Some women can have small cysts on the ovaries.
- IV — Severe — The lesions and adhesions are very widespread, and there are large cysts on the ovaries.
Johns Hopkins Hospital explains that the endometriosis stages are not set points, but they are “based on the location, amount, depth, and size of the endometrial tissue” within the body. It also notes that symptoms can not accurately judge the stages of the disease, as each woman reports varying symptoms.
One of the signs of endometriosis is when the degree of period pain is more than it should be. If the discomfort starts to be ranked higher and higher, such as one would rank on a pain scale of 1 to 10, a physician should be informed. It does not always have to happen during menstruation; endometriosis can cause back pain and abdominal pain at any time. While period pain may indicate endometriosis, there are other conditions that may also cause period pain.
It’s not (always) the stomach flu causing problems. Endometriosis can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even constipation, as the lining attaches to various organs in your body. The increased pain caused by endometriosis can also cause the same gastrointestinal symptoms.
Many women also struggle with heavy menstrual bleeding that can become dangerous due to the blood loss. Others have pain with urination and difficulty with intercourse.
What Causes Endometriosis?
Many women wonder about the causes of endometriosis. It can be due to many things such as imbalanced hormones, menstrual flow that goes backwards, a C-section, poor immune system, and even genetic issues.
“Is endometriosis genetic?” and “is endometriosis hereditary?” are questions often asked by those who suffer from endometriosis. Physicians and scientists realize the answer is a probable yes. According to a study done in Iceland from 1981–1993, published in Human Reproduction and also Oxford Academic, it was found that “a genetic factor is present, with a raised risk in close and more distant relatives, and a definite kinship factor with maternal and paternal inheritance contributing” to endometriosis.
If your mother, aunt, grandmother, or second cousin has struggled with this disease, there is a strong possibility that you might, as well.
Complications of Endometriosis
Endometriosis and Infertility
One of the most unfortunate side effects of endometriosis is infertility. This is due to the scarring effects of the endometrial lining; the body recognizes the extra tissue as a foreign invader and attacks it. Also, the inflammation keeps the fertilized egg from attaching correctly.
Does Endometriosis Affect Pregnancy?
Unfortunately, endometriosis can affect pregnancy. Having endometriosis and attempting pregnancy is not always successful. It does not mean, however, that becoming pregnant is impossible. Endometriosis.org says, “It is generally believed that 60% to 70% of women with endometriosis are fertile. Furthermore, about half the women who have difficulties with getting pregnant do eventually conceive with or without treatment.”
How Is Endometriosis Diagnosed?
Many women want to know how to test for endometriosis. Unfortunately, there are no home endometriosis tests like a pregnancy test. Most often, it is the symptoms of endometriosis that will signal to the physician that more testing should be done.
The first test your physician will often perform is an endometriosis ultrasound to help visualize if the lining is present in other places in the abdominal cavity. If the ultrasound does not give the right visuals, a laparoscopy for endometriosis may be performed. During this procedure, a tissue sample may be taken and analysed to definitively diagnose endometriosis. Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure and comes with many potential risks.
If you think that you are having signs of endometriosis, you should see an endometriosis specialist, because not all physicians are trained in recognizing this disease.
How Is Endometriosis Treated?
While there is no endometriosis cure, here are some of the ways that many find relief:
A healthy diet may help treat the effects of this disease by reducing inflammation. This diet should include foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and other oily fish. It should also be high in vegetables and fruits, low in red meat, and high in healthy grains. Some women also follow a gluten-free diet or Low- FODMAP diet to further reduce inflammation.
Most physicians start with anti-inflammatory, NSAID pain medications to help treat the pain of endometriosis. These often include ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve). If these are not sufficient, some doctors may prescribe other pain medications.
Birth Control Pills
The endometrial lining is dependent on hormones to grow each month; birth control pills may be an effective treatment to slow the affected hormones. However, these are not just any birth control pills, but specific ones that work as an endometriosis medication. Some suggested medications are Depo-Provera, Seasonique, and Implanon, according to Verywell Health.
If none of the above treatment suggestions are helpful, the last resort is a hysterectomy for endometriosis. This procedure removes the uterus, which is the largest source of the endometrial lining.
Since the lining may have traveled to other places in the body, some symptoms can remain, such as endometriosis after a hysterectomy. According to a Johns Hopkins study, as many as one-third of the women had to have a second surgery to remove the excessive endometrial linings.
Endometriosis is a painful disease, and is something that should be treated before it worsens. It is essential to speak with a physician to help find the right diagnosis and treatment for you.
If you have endometriosis or have symptoms that make you suspect that you may have endometriosis, then you should consider seeking the help of a medical professional. The telehealth technology used by Alpha Medical provides instant access to doctors who can diagnose endometriosis from the comfort of your home and prescribe medications that can be shipped directly to your door.