When it comes to endometriosis awareness, there aren’t quite enough people speaking out about what’s an increasingly common disorder that can cause a lot of discomfort and reduction in one’s quality of life. Endometriosis is, in short, a disorder in which tissue that is supposed to line the uterus actually grows outside of it, creating extreme pain, discomfort, bleeding, and in some cases, even digestive issues or infertility.
Here you’ll find what endometriosis is, what the symptoms are, who is most affected by it, what the prognosis and treatment is, and how to get help if you suspect that you have it.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus, the endometrium, grows outside of it. The tissue most commonly grows around ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue around one’s pelvis, Mayo Clinic reports. Sometimes, the tissue may even spread beyond organs in the pelvic region.
When someone has endometriosis, the tissue is not just growing on other organs, it is also behaving as it would if it were in the uterus, by thickening, breaking down, and then creating bleeding, as it would with a normal menstrual cycle. This can cause all kinds of complications, and when they involve the ovary, endometriomas may also become an issue. This is when the ovaries actually develop adhesions from the scar tissue, causing the pelvic organs to stick together.
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
The symptoms of endometriosis can vary between patients, but generally include pain, which is the most common symptom, in the form of extremely painful menstrual cramping, chronic back pain that gets worse over time, chronic pain during or after sexual intercourse (this is often referred to as “deep” pain) intestinal pain, painful bowel movements, or pain when urinating during menstruation, womenshealth.gov reported.
Other symptoms can include bleeding or spotting between periods, infertility, and stomach and digestive problems, including diarrhea, constipation, bloating and nausea.
Who is affected by endometriosis?
Endometriosis affects between 6 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age, worldwide, medicalnewstoday.com reported. Though the condition can be present as early as when one’s fetus is first developing, it tends to not become an issue until the individual is at puberty, when estrogen levels increase, and intensify the issue.
Unfortunately, most women go undiagnosed, as it can sometimes take 10 years to get a clear diagnosis, even in the United States. Everything from allergies to chemical sensitivities, autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and ovarian cancer are linked to individuals with endometriosis.
What is the prognosis for endometriosis?
Right now, there is not any one cure for endometriosis, WebMd reports, but there are still ways to treat and manage one’s symptoms.
First, patients with endometriosis will likely be prescribed a pain medication for discomfort. This can come in the form of an NSAID, which is a stronger medication. Second, patients can be recommended for hormone therapy, which can either stop your menstrual period, or make areas affected by endometriosis bleed less heavily. Hormone therapy can also reduce inflammation, and make scars and cysts less likely. This can come in the form of birth control.
If none of these options are viable or effective, it is also possible to have surgery to remove some of the misplaced tissue. In more extreme cases, some women opt to have a full or partial hysterectomy — a removal of their reproductive organs — which would provide permanent relief. However, this is not suggested for women who still want to have children, as it would make reproduction impossible, save for freezing one’s eggs and utilizing a gestational carrier.
How do you test for endometriosis?
There are a number of ways that doctors can test for endometriosis. First, they will likely perform a pelvic exam, during which the doctor will manually feel areas of the pelvis for any growths or abnormalities. However, this can be ineffective because it can be difficult to feel any abnormalities if they are not advanced, or if they have not already caused cysts.
Next, you can diagnose through an ultrasound, which is a high-frequency sound wave technique that creates images of your organs. It’s typically used throughout pregnancy, to monitor the development of a fetus. Again, it might not always be effective at identifying tissue as it is cysts, or other larger growths.
Last, doctors might rely on an MRI or a laparoscopic exam. The MRI will give detailed images of the body’s organs and tissues, and will likely be necessary if you are going to undergo surgery to remove tissue. The MRI will give the most detail without having to actually open your body. Another option is a laparoscopy, in which the surgeon will actually take a tissue sample from inside your body to confirm endometriosis.