Endometriosis Symptoms & Treatment
Endometriosis is an often painful condition some women get in their childbearing years. For women with endometriosis, the tissue that lines their uterus spreads and grows outside of their uterus.
It can spread to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and intestines, however it rarely spreads to other organs further in the belly. Each month during a woman’s menstrual cycle, her body release hormones that cause the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to thicken and bleed. This reaction happens to all of the endometrium tissue, both inside and outside of the uterus. When it happens inside the uterus, the natural process, menstruation occurs, and the blood is released through the vagina. When endometrial bleeding happens outside of the uterus, there’s no outlet for the blood and it can cause surrounding tissue to become irritated. In any cases, scar tissue and/or fluid filled sacs (cysts) form and cause pain. Endometriosis can cause severe pain, especially during menstruation, and it can lead to infertility.
The symptoms of endometriosis vary to the extent with which the lesions are growing, and not every woman will experience all of the symptoms. Some symptoms include:
- Painful, extended menstruation – severe cramping, with periods lasting longer than 7 days and/or heavy bleeding (having to change a tampon or pad every 2 hours throughout most of the period)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Painful intercourse
- Bowel or urinary disorders – frequent urge to urinate, diarrhea, painful urination and bowel movements
- Infertility – 30% – 40% of women that have endometriosis may experience infertility issues, however, excision surgery can help improve fertility
- Cysts, scar tissue and adhesions – when endometriosis is in the ovaries, cysts can form, when it touches other organs, scar tissue and adhesions can form and bind organs together, moving anatomy out of place.
The cause of Endometriosis is not fully understood, but it is known that the hormone estrogen makes it worse. Several theories exist, including the once popular explanation, retrograde menstruation. In retrograde menstruation, menstrual blood flows back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of out of the body. However recent studies have shown that 90% of women experience retrograde menstruation, and only 10% of those women develop endometriosis. Other theories link the cause to immune disorders and the bodies inflammatory response, but the development process in these causes is still not understood. Because of the lack of pinpointing a cause for endometriosis, it can be misdiagnosed and left untreated for many years. The only way to verify a case of endometriosis is by collecting a biopsy of the affected area through a diagnostic laparoscopy.
While there is no cure for endometriosis, there are several ways to treat it. Medications or surgery are the most common, but a doctor will choose the best treatment depending on the severity of the symptoms. Some treatments include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs – can reduce pain and bleeding.
- Birth control pills – can alleviate the pain of endometriosis by suppressing menstruation and inhibiting the growth of the endometrial tissue.
- Hormone therapy – can shrink the growth of the tissue and stops the period from occurring for a period of time.
- Endometrial Ablation – ablates (permanently removes) the lining of the uterus, or the endometrium, which stops or reduces menstrual bleeding (for women that do not wish to have future children.
- Laparoscopy surgery – can remove the extra endometrium and scar tissue
- Hysterectomy surgery – removes the uterus and ovaries (for women who will forgo bearing future children)
Symptoms usually go away naturally when menstruation stops at menopause. It’s important to talk to a gynecologist about any symptoms related to reproductive health, and although there is no current cure for Endometriosis, a doctor will be able to help someone manage it.