Endometriosis: What it is
Endometriosis is a disease of the female reproductive system in which painful endometrial-like tissues form just outside the uterus.
It is one of the leading causes of infertility, accounting for one third of all reported infertility cases.
When a woman gets diagnosed with endometriosis, one or more of these organs in her pelvic region: ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, bowels, and the top of the vagina gets affected. On rare occasions, other organs like the lungs, kidney, diaphragm, or appendix may also be affected.
These tissues, which naturally line your uterine walls, grow on other organs outside your uterus.
This disease is far more widespread than most know, affecting up to 10% of women of reproductive age or about 176 million women worldwide.
Endometriosis can be quite painful and a few women affected describe it as a sharp, stabbing pain that mostly starts a few days to your period and lasts all through. The pain can also be so severe as to disrupt your regular routine.
What Causes Endometriosis?
There are no known causes of endometriosis, but a school of thought is that it comes about as a result of retrograde menstruation.
How this happens is that during your period, some blood and/or tissue escapes and goes back through your fallopian tube to your abdominal region and overtime, this forms lesions that causes that intense pain.
There is also speculations that endometriosis comes about as a result of tissues of the uterine lining getting transported through your blood vessels from their original location in your uterus to form lesions on organs outside the uterus.
Why Endometriosis is Painful
During your period, your uterine lining gets shed and comes out as menstrual blood. For women with endometriosis, the womb is not the only organ that bleeds touring this time. The tissues or lesions that formed outside the uterus also do and do so unto the organs to which they’re attached. The result of this is these organs getting irritated and inflammed which causes the pain experienced.
The Stages of Endometriosis Explained
Like most disease of its kind, endometriosis occurs in stages, with each having it’s own symptoms and severity of pain.
There are four stages of endometriosis and these are:
Most women diagnosed with the first or second stages never progress beyond that with the right treatment and care.
During diagnosis, a lot of factors are considered to determine what stage a woman is in and these include
- the size of the lesions
- the numbers
- and the location they occur
From the name, this stage is characterized by very small endometrial-like lesions or wounds mostly located in your pelvic region.
The mild stage sees superficial lesions present not just in your ovaries, but also along your pelvic region.
With moderate endometriosis, the lesions and wounds are deeper and also appear in your ovaries and pelvic lining.
This is the most painful stage of all and has the endometrial-like tissues and wounds not just in your pelvic area, but also on other organs outside your uterus.
16 Common Symptoms of Endometriosis
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There are various symptoms that could point to endometriosis during diagnosis and these include
1.Severe pain in your pelvic region just before your period.
2.Painful sexual intercourse
3.Very heavy period
4.Painful period (dysmenorrhea)
5.Bleeding between periods
6.Cramp-like pain during urination or bowel movement
12.Nerve pain in your hips or legs
13.Painful bowel movement
Endometriosis and Infertility: The Correlation
Research has found that an estimated 20 – 40% of all infertility cases in women is caused by endometriosis.
When endometriosis is present, there is usually severe scaring of the lining of the uterus and/or fallopian tubes and this affects the ease with which the sperm and the egg meet to fertilize.
In extreme cases, the ovaries get inflammed and are unable to function properly. The fallopian tubes also get so severely scarred, they are unable to transport the egg.
Endometriosis and Cancer
Endometrial-like cancer, a type of cancer that begins from the lining of the womb, is a risk factor of women with endometriosis.
Although research is yet to find the link between cancer and endometriosis. However, a common notion is that having endometriosis increases your risk of having the following types of cancer:
- epithelial or ovarian cancer ,- (EOC) by 90%
– lymphoma by 40%
– and breast cancer by 30%
This risk is also much higher if a woman has never had children.
Risks Factors of Endometriosis
Although about 3 -10% of women of reproductive age are affected by this disease, there are some risk factors that pre-disposes some women to it.
- Having your first period before age 11
- Having a family history of the disease (especially when the relative is much closer like a mother)
- Having a short menstrual cycle
- Having certain uterine abnomalities
- Having a heavy menstrual flow
- Being between ages 25 – 40 years of age
- Having a low body mass index
- Never haven given birth
- Regularly eating a diet of red meat or one high in fats.
- A high alcohol intake.
- Diagnosis of Endometriosis
- Endometriosis is usually diagnosed by a GYN physician after getting to know of your symptoms or by running some tests. You are then correctly classified under an endometrisland stage and placed on the right treatment.
Some possible tests used to diagnose this disease include a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, or laparoscopy.
Common Treatments for Endometriosis
Treatment of endometriosis usually falls under any of the following:
Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Your doctor may recommend pain meds such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or NSAIDs to relieve the pain.
However, if your symptoms are severe or fail to clear with medications, you might get placed on alternate treatment like hormone therapy such as Gonadotropin-releasing hormones (Gn-RH), vagina patches, birth control pills, or danazol.
In extreme cases or if you’ve been actively trying to conceive without success, your doctor will suggest surgery to clear out much of the scarred endometrial-like tissues to boost your chances.